The Kitchen Girl

She used to wash red stained underwear that she could never afford to wear. Her knees endured 22 years of cold tiled floors and a scrubbing brush. Her hands are the story, her cracked, course, black hands began the story that was to become her life.  Her name was Esther a name given to her by her very first Madame because she didn’t want her lipstick to smudge from pronouncing the “Bantu” name Rhumisa.

My grandmother was what we call a kitchen girl. The type of kitchen girl that is forced by her circumstances to leave her young children in a rural village to raise themselves while she raises a white woman’s children in the city.

Historically black women have been confronted with injustices and hardships that have forced them to be resilient and become generators of their own dignity. Rhumisa offered her hands every morning at 5 am to make tea and cook, wash and clean, pick up dog poo and iron so that her two sons could go to school and become teachers.

washing-41825_1280I was raised by my grandmother and her white Madame since the age of two. I grew up in a half white half black world that often left me feeling out of place and confused. I grew up with all the privileges offered to white children in South Africa but the colour of my skin kept me from fully enjoying them. My reality was and always will be that of a black South African woman in a country struggling with its own identity.

The conditions faced by my grandmother have inspired me to silence my critics and forge my own destiny. One thing I cannot deny is the anger and resentment I carry because the past still seems to dictate to the future. For the black female child living in this country and this world things are still hard, even if you raise your voice you still may not be heard.


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