On the news last night was a bit about a middle aged Malaysian couple (Soh Chew Tong and his wife Chin Chui Ling) receiving twenty four year prison sentences for culpable homicide. Last year their maid (twenty three year old Mey Sichan from Cambodia) was found dead. Cause of death – acute gastritis and ulcers caused by lack of food over a long period. She weighed only 26 kilograms and was covered with bruises from injuries inflicted during the eight months that she worked for these people. They starved her to death. Another shameful murder of someone without the resources or “power” to help themselves.
This is one of the sorts of things that made me write African Me. Because of an accident of birth you’re rich or poor. Black or white. People have staff working for them all over the world. If you’re a posh butler for some lord of the manor in the first world, you’re likely to be treated with respect and paid well for your services. Lots of my friends went au pairing after school to see the world for free, and came back with mostly good reports of their overseas employers. This mostly isn’t the case when it comes to really poor people having no other options but to work as badly paid maids or gardeners in other parts of the world. The core of apartheid in South Africa was keeping the majority of the citizens uneducated and not able to ever rise above the “station” in life that they had been allocated. Even though African countries have gained independence now, so many years of this kind of oppression has created whole sectors of nations that are unable to drag themselves out of this.
Here in Zimbabwe today it is common for a gardener or maid to earn US $60 a month. This will buy you a bottle of oil, some maize meal and about six or seven other cheap items of food like dried beans. In exchange for this they get accommodation – not necessarily with electricity and very seldom with any sort of indoor plumbing. Working hours vary, but a lot of these people generally go to work most days of the week, often having to stay late into the evenings to sort out supper for their employers. I’ve known people that take their maids on camping holidays with them to care for their children and do any cleaning and cooking that needs to be done. These people are expected to do every little thing, while at the same time remain “invisible”. Not many of their bosses care about the things that happen in their lives. Deaths or difficulties in their families are of no interest at all, and often regarded as a nuisance or a cheek if mentioned. Granted, some employers are nicer than others and pay well, or give their staff extra groceries in addition to their wages, but not the majority that I’ve noticed. Some “madams” scream abuse at their staff, or “punish” them in the most small-minded ways. These must be the most hurtful, painful things in the world to have inflicted on you, when you’re helpless, have no money, or anywhere else to turn to.
There was an incident many years ago where a man, here in Zimbabwe, tied his gardener to the back of his truck and drove up the highway pulling the screaming man along the road, because he thought he had stolen something from him. Of course the gardener died. But those were still the days when that sort of behaviour was acceptable. Beating or killing black people wasn’t considered a big deal then. Maybe nowadays you won’t get away with actual killing, but people are still getting away with shocking abuses of others, purely because they’re hungry and desperate, and have no other recourse that they can see. This has nothing to do with politics or who’s in charge now. In post-colonial Africa the blame for this rests solidly on the hundreds of years of evil and twisted colonial rules. End of. Anyone on the planet thinking that they’re in any way “superior” to anyone else, and therefore have the right to abuse or oppress that person in any way, places them squarely below worm turd in my opinion. Twenty four years in jail seems a light sentence for beating a twenty three year old and withholding food for eight months till she died. Sometimes an eye for an eye just seems like a much better solution to me.
Till next time friends. xxx