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Workers’ Day: Cleaner dreams of running her own business

May 02 2019 21:01
By Katherine Liu and Kristine Liao

This feature is part of a Worker's Day series by GroundUp. 

For Zanele Tasana, work is a happy place.

"I love to work here because I’m meeting different people," Tasana said. "Sometimes you’re stressed in the house. But when I come here, I’ll meet somebody, then I start smiling and I start laughing and I forget about home."

Tasana works as a cleaner at Freeland Lodge in Observatory. She is in charge of cleaning the kitchens, bathrooms, common areas, and windows of five houses, mostly rented by students, interns and volunteers.

When she arrives at 8:30 am, she likes to sit down and drink her tea. By 9am, she is in the kitchen washing the dishes and dusting the counters and cupboards. With two co-workers she cleans five kitchens and ten bathrooms. She also washes and irons linen and does a deep wash of mattresses once a year before Christmas.

Although she starts work at 9am, she has to wake up at 5:30am, and as early as 4:30am on Mondays, in order to arrive on time. Her working day ends at 4pm.

She takes the bus from Khayelitsha to Observatory and before she leaves home she prepares her two grandsons for school. Their mother works in Oudtshoorn.

Tasana lives in a three-bedroom RDP house with her son and her daughter’s two sons. She has had the house since 2000.

Bad start

Tasana’s first job as a housekeeper for a private house in Athlone in 1986 was not a pleasant one. She says the family would often shout at her and call her names. She remembers one instance when the 13-year-old boy began using the k-word because he was not pleased with the way she ironed his shirt.

She quit without notice one day, leaving a letter that read, "See me now, see me no more." She left the vacuum cleaner on, the taps running and the sinks clogged as a final act of retaliation.

After two years of unemployment, she was hired to work at a car wash company. She left when the company changed hands in 2000, and began working as a domestic worker in a house in Durbanville.

"It was not easy to look for a job, because there are no jobs," Tasana said. "When you are working you have to tell yourself that a cent is better than nothing."

'You have to be trusted'

During this time Tasana’s employer met David Kriel, manager of Freeland Lodge, at a coffee shop, and Kriel offered Tasana a part-time job. She has been working there for 14 years now and the lodge has grown over time.

"You have to be trusted at work," Tasana said. "Once you respect your boss, your boss is going to respect you."

With help from Kriel she is saving to buy a car so that she can buy and sell fruits, vegetables, and clothes at weekends. She wants to make money to fund her grandchildren’s education.

"When I retire, I don’t want to sit down doing nothing while these children are still young. I can see that their mother is not going to manage," Tasana said. "So this is my prayer, that I still have power to do things for them."

domestic workers  |  workers day  |  racism
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