Emily’s story, told by Brenda Mottershead

Emily was the first in the queue of black women and men lining the driveway of No 1 Herold Avenue as we arrived at the Toms' empty bungalow in Wendywood ahead of a small removal van. The people in the queue were there to offer their services as housemaids and garden "boys" in return for the greatly coveted servants' accommodation.

We had been told that this would happen and although I had no need of a servant I was aware of the opportunity and obligation to give shelter and work to some poor person. That poor person, Mrs Emily Maloka, was to teach me a great deal about South Africa during the two and a half years which followed.

At first Emily was deferential to the point of obsequiousness, bobbing a curtsey every time she uttered the words "Madam" and "Master". My objection to this form of address, as well as the accompanying gesture, brought the insistent reply: "It is the respect, Madam; I must do the respect." I learned about the vulnerability and exploitation of domestic workers and discovered that as "Madam" I was responsible for Emily's legal registration, health certificate and pass. I realised that I was not simply giving someone a roof over her head; I was taking on duties and responsibilities of which I had never dreamt.

One day, as I watched her carefully spread some meat scraps on newspaper in the sun to make biltong, and found her removing from the dustbin some chicken skin I had thrown away, I realised that the "Third World" had come to my back yard. It was a shocking experience for which I was morally and emotionally ill-prepared.


I always looked forward to coffee times because, as she gained confidence, Emily would relax enough to sit with me and talk about her life and her "place" in Jericho. It was in the Bophuthatswana homeland, where part of the Batswana people lived, divided from their tribesmen in Botswana.

"My parents were dead a long time and my grandmother paid for my school until Standard 3, then no more money, then she die. Then my husband marry me. But it is the drink that make him bad. He come to hit me and hurt me and chase me away to bring his girlfriends. But I think of my children and I must work for my children. Every night in my bed I see all my children and I pray God for all my children."

"Tell me about them, Emily; I only know Moses, Anna and Christine."

"They are not here now. They died. Five of them died. I don't know why, but there was no help. I give them mealie porridge, thin with water, but they die." Then, calmly, she told me about each one. I think enteritis had killed them, but I was too saddened to question further.

Another conversation about water took place in January 1981, when Emily and I greeted each other after the scorching Christmas holiday. She seemed troubled and did not smile. Then she asked, "Has the Madam any tablets for the pain?"

"What pain, Emily?" I enquired.

"It is here," she said, indicating the back of her neck.

"Tell me what happened."

"It's the water, Ma'am. Each day I go for the water and I take the buckets and it is far, very far. Then I get to the hole. We have to make the hole deeper and deeper to get the water and now the ladder is very long.

"I go down the ladder with my bucket on my head and when I get to the mud I scrape it into my bucket." She bent double and scraped the tile floor to show me.

"Then I put the heavy bucket on my head and go up the ladder. And I do it with all my buckets. Then I put them down to rest. The mud will go down and the water will come. This much water." She indicated about two inches. "I sit and wait a long time for the water to come. Then I put it in my last bucket, I take it all, and then I put it on my head. I take my water home. I do it every, every day. Has the Madam tablets for the pain?"


When I took Emily home to Jericho, shortly before my departure for England, I learned more.

The journey itself was an enlightening experience. Travelling north from Johannesburg we saw the rich farmland suddenly vanish as we turned on to a dust road. It was replaced by interminable hostile, brown, thorn bush. The heat greatly increased. There was no sign of habitation. "Are you sure this is the way?" I asked anxiously.

"Yes ,Madam. It is far. Our place is very far." And after 20 miles a few huts. Emily pointed out the landmarks dispassionately, as we approached Jericho.

"This is the place they made for groundnuts; but the groundnuts failed."

"This is the place for the mealies; but the mealies failed."

We crossed a sluggish stream. Cattle stood nearby. A child carried water.

At last we reached her family's home - a square mud creation with a corrugated tin roof; a cracked, crumbling, leaking hut. "This is our place," she said.


Shortly before our departure from South Africa, Emily's daughter Anna, aged 17, announced her second pregnancy. Emily wept.

"It is too heavy for me. Please will the Madam think of something? There is nothing for us when you go. Where shall we find food in Jericho? Baby Gladys eats mealie and water now. She want milk, but milk is too much money." Emily drooped with despondency, then brightened and said excitedly.

"The Madam must take Christine. Please take her to England. She love the Madam. The Madam can do what she want with Christine and Christine will be good for the Madam."

How desperate she must have been to want to give away her child. And after we returned to England a letter came via the headmaster of Jericho, Mr Kwape. It was written by Anna, for her mother, and confirmed all my fears.

"Dear Mam,

"I am very happy to receive your last letter, I haven't think that you can remember me anymore. Here at our place my heart have many sorrow because I am not working. I am still sick. I haven't has a house I am looking after you because I take you like my mother. I didn't know that I will find someone like you who know what is a person like me. Now please help me, my husband don't want to help me. I haven't had a house and clothes, each and everything is looking at me. I think that God can bless you. I am suffering by little foods. Greet all at home.

Yours young sister. Emily."