Worries have turned Zelwande into a light sleeper. She wakes up at 3.30am and remembers the good old days when her parents were still alive. She recalls how long she used to sleep, and the beautiful dreams she used to have.

She cooks runny porridge for breakfast. She heats up water for bathing. The paraffin stove is small but quick, and the heat it gives off warms their shack. The porridge is ready by the time Senzo and Aphile wake up. The water for bathing is boiling.

Aphile’s eyes become glass in the glare of the single burning candle. “Porridge every day. I don’t want porridge!” she complains and pushes the dish away from her.

“Stop being a brat, Aphile!” says Senzo, tilting his bowl and drinking the runny porridge.

“Every day we eat tasteless food!”

“Show some respect and gratitude, Aphile! Some of your schoolmates will go to school not having eaten anything at all. At least you’ll have eaten something!” Zelwande is lecturing Aphile but she feels the same way her little sister feels. She is also tired of eating the same basic, tasteless food every day.

“I’m sorry,” says Aphile.

Zelwande watches her down the porridge. She dishes remnants of yesterday’s supper – minced meat, rice and coleslaw – into their lunchboxes.

“Hurry up, guys. You can’t be late for school,” says Zelwande.

As soon as they leave Zelwande eats what is left of the porridge, bathes and leaves. It is now 7:30am; she has been awake for four hours.

It is quiet in Tin City at this time. Children have gone to school, adults to their low paying jobs. Zelwande doesn’t know where she is going. The only thing she knows is that she must find some money so she can bring back something to eat for her siblings and herself, and buy an electricity recharge voucher.

She stands straighter, smiles and walks with energy when she reaches the suburban parts of Chatsworth. The Indian housewives in the area will not hire you if you appear to be lazy and sullen.

“Washing makoti! Washing makoti!” Zelwande belts out as she walks up Lenny Naidoo Drive.

She belts out this saying, an offer to do washing for anyone willing to pay a small fee, as she walks the roads all over Chatsworth. The Indian housewives peer through their windows, size her up and look the other way. Most of the households have domestic workers. Her feet are throbbing by the time she sits on the bench at a small park on Havenside Drive.

She takes long, deep breaths, but her worries overwhelm her strong spirit now. When this happens she usually throws her thoughts back to the past.

So Zelwande recalls, with great detail, how her life was when her parents were still alive. Her mom and dad did their best to ensure that their children were always clothed and fed. She recalls the warmth of their embraces, the laughter in the flat where they used to live.

A car screeches to a halt next to the pavement. Zelwande lifts up her head. An Indian woman rolls down the driver’s window.

“Hey, what are doing there? Are you looking for a job?” asks the woman.

“Yes, madam, I’m looking for a job,” says Zelwande.

“Jump in. I have a job for you.”


Tell us: In the past in our country domestic work was racially defined. It was mostly white people who employed black domestic workers. Do you think this has changed much?