So­cial me­dia storm over deroga­tory mugs


MUGS la­belled with the words “The Maid” and “The Gar­dener” did not go down well with so­cial me­dia users, prompt­ing the na­tional re­tail chain Pick n Pay to re­move the of­fend­ing items from a fran­chise store shelf.

Some so­cial me­dia users said it re­minded them of the op­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing apartheid, while oth­ers could not be­lieve that 24 years into democ­racy such small-minded think­ing pre­vailed.

Twit­ter user @toni_verna tweeted a pic­ture of the mugs, say­ing she had seen them at the re­tailer’s Ob­ser­va­tory, Cape Town, branch and that she found them “hella prob­lem­atic”.

Re­act­ing to the post, Jamil Khan said do­mes­tic labour in the coun­try had a long his­tory of de­hu­man­i­sa­tion and racism at­tached to it.

“One method was, and still is, to deny helpers use of house­hold crock­ery and cut­lery as they were con­sid­ered un­wor­thy and un­hy­gienic. This la­belling en­cour­ages that idea.”

An­other user, Zandy Tha­bethe, added: “In­deed we all know in some house­holds the helper has her own cup, teapot, spoon, tea­spoon, plate and made to sleep un­der the ta­ble. The tea is brewed on Mon­day for the whole week.”

The for­mer head of pub­lic re­la­tions at M-Net, ex-an­chor of Carte Blanche and the di­rec­tor of Leapfrog Prop­er­ties, Doreen Mor­ris, also tweeted on how hurt­ful she found the mugs.


She said it re­minded her of how she had been treated when she worked as a do­mes­tic worker.

Pick n Pay spokesper­son Ja­nine Caradonna apol­o­gised, say­ing: “The mugs were pur­chased and put on sale by one of our fran­chisees at his store, with­out our knowl­edge.

“We asked the fran­chisee to re­move them im­me­di­ately, which he did.

“In sell­ing these prod­ucts, our fran­chisee was op­er­at­ing out­side our rules on our per­mit­ted range of prod­ucts. We have made it clear to him and all our fran­chisees that this is not ac­cept­able. We ex­pect all Pick n Pay fran­chisees to up­hold our pos­i­tive val­ues of re­spect for oth­ers and in­clu­sive­ness.”

The CEO and founder of the home clean­ing ser­vice provider Sweep­South, Aisha Pan­dor, de­scribed the pro­duc­tion and sale of the mugs as com­pletely un­ac­cept­able.

“South Africa is still try­ing to ad­dress the wide-rang­ing and far-reach­ing im­pact of a painful past of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and in­equal­ity and these mugs rep­re­sent the idea of mak­ing a profit from that pain and a mock­ery of those in­jus­tices. These mugs opened up a lot of pent-up hurt for both do­mes­tic work­ers and the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of do­mes­tic work­ers.

“Al­though Pick n Pay has rightly dis­tanced them­selves from the fran­chisee who stocked the mugs and had asked for their im­me­di­ate re­moval, even hav­ing just had them on (the) shelves cre­ates the im­pres­sion that it is okay to make light of racist prac­tices, hav­ing sep­a­rate cups for ‘the help’, that was so per­va­sive in our coun­try.”

Pan­dor added that the mugs were deroga­tory and en­cour­aged lev­els of seg­re­ga­tion fu­elled by dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“In a his­tor­i­cal and un­for­tu­nately in some cases even present con­text in South Africa, it was a com­mon prac­tice to call do­mes­tic work­ers the ‘gar­den boy’ or ‘maid’, which it­self is a short­ened term for maiden, which means young girl or un­mar­ried women, and as such I think we can all agree that it is in­cred­i­bly deroga­tory to re­fer to adults as chil­dren.

“But there was a far more in­sid­i­ous his­tory that these mugs brought to the fore. Now, we should chal­lenge friends or fam­ily who do this head-on and en­sure they are aware of the harm and lack of dig­nity this sort of prac­tice and at­ti­tude con­veys.”

The spokesper­son of the South African Do­mes­tic Ser­vice and Al­lied Work­ers Union, Myr­tle Wit­booi, added: “We are work­ers who are con­stantly hav­ing to fight for de­cent work and our rights. The mugs are a hor­ri­ble re­minder for many that worked in homes dur­ing the apartheid years.”

She said that de­spite the mugs be­ing re­moved from the fran­chisee’s shelf, the dam­age had al­ready been done. “Our strug­gle con­tin­ues.”


The chief ex­ec­u­tive and founder of Sweep­South, Aisha Pan­dor. RIGHT: The mugs with words ‘The Maid’ and ‘The Gar­dener’ sparked fury among so­cial me­dia users.

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