How nannies and parents navigated lockdown in South Africa
When lockdown was enforced in South Africa, both parents and nannies had to compromise to make things work.
Parent24 Nanny Series (Getty Images)
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This Parent24 Nanny Series takes a deep dive into one of the most intimate working relationships in South Africa: that of nannies and the parents who employ them. Each month this series explores an aspect of the nanny/parent relationship and features not only experts, but also real life parents and nannies.


It’s not revolutionary or even unique to say that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown have completely upended lives, everywhere. However, in South Africa we have a distinct relationship that’s been uniquely affected: that of nannies and parents. 

Unlike other connections, this isn’t as simple as that of an employee-employer, or even as straight-forward as someone in the family. Somehow, this is a bit of both.

It’s a close relationship where boundaries blur, inequalities are both more and less pronounced, and lives are in many ways shared as both parents and child-carers depend on each other. 

This was even more pronounced when crucial decisions and compromises had to be made within days once the Level 5 lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020. With schools closed, both parents and nannies (often with their own children to care for) were left in a challenging situation. 

As the lockdown has exposed, nannies are some of the most vulnerable employees and yet some of the most crucial for middle class parents. 

Here are some key touch points that were affected by the lockdown. 

SALARIES… AND EMPLOYMENT 

On a very broad spectrum, many thousands of jobs have been affected by the pandemic - job losses of  between 690 000 and 1.79 million are predicted by the Treasury.

Apart from job losses (though many people have discovered just how crucial their child care is in this time), salaries are where many are feeling the pinch.

"People are cutting their nannies back to minimum wage and, with the high joblessness rates, people are more likely to accept that," says Jahni de Villiers, the director of Labour Amplified.

Many nannies do not have a UIF - though it is legally mandatory for their employers to set it up - and feel like they have very little negotiating power. Keeping in mind that any domestic work is only 75% of the minimum wage, a "generous" salary above minimum wage can still be very low. 

"There should be equity but there is little equal power in a domestic situation," says Jahni. "The employers must understand the responsibility on their shoulder and after being alone with their kids they must understand how difficult the work is that nannies do." 

On the other side of this, many employers attempted to keep their nannies paid in full and made additional efforts, like purchasing supplies, as you’ll see in our interviews from real parents and nannies below.  

TRANSPORT

Once nannies were allowed to return to work, employers needed to compromise to keep everyone safe and off public transport as much as possible.  

Some of the solutions included: 

- Shifting working hours to avoid peak traffic. With the president urging people to work at home, many could offer this flexibility to their nannies; 

- Fetching and dropping off childminders so they could avoid using public transport at all. Many parents combined the shifted hours with the offer to pick and drop off their nanny to further reduce risk; 

- Lift clubs were established by some families who had childminders living in the same area, where parents would alternate who drove the nannies to and from a central pick up point; 

- Uber was also an option for those who couldn’t do the driving themselves, but still wanted to limit public contact for their nannies.  

LIVE IN - TWO FAMILIES ARE AFFECTED 

By far the biggest adjustment for both nannies and parents was altering living situations dramatically.

By moving in together risk was entirely mitigated, but it did cause strain to some of the real life nannies and parents we spoke to - some nannies felt trapped and both struggled with a rapid shift in boundaries.

Living with your boss can be challenging and, as nanny Lindiwe Mcamgisa admitted, though she felt very blessed to move into her employer’s household with her three children, it could be frustrating to not see her other family and to be completely dependent on her employer for months at a time. 

KEEPING EACH OTHER SAFE 

Employers and nannies form a co-dependent microcosm, and it’s important to remember that the actions of either affect the whole.

Taking as few risks as possible, as the pPresident reminded us recently, staying hygienic, and being considerate to each other’s circumstances are essential to keeping this relationship healthy during lockdown.  

Employers can provide basic hygiene measures like masks and sanitisers, and as mom Jabu Bunnell said: "My advice to other moms is to ask more questions. Don't assume, and give as much as you possibly can. Be willing to compromise! These are tough times and things don’t go according to plan. Don’t sweat the small stuff." 

YOUR STORIES

Jabu Bunnell, Johannesburg mother of two

"I have two children under four, and live in an apartment complex. Before lockdown, our nanny, Bridget, used to live in the shared staff quarters above our flat.

Once the risks grew and lockdown rolled out, we decided to move her into our apartment where she’s living in one of the bedrooms. I think it improved our relationship, even though the blurred boundaries have been really hard (try telling a 17-month-old that their other favourite person is here, but it’s Saturday and she won’t be spending all day with them!).

We have been sharing our personal stories, and understand each other’s thinking a lot better. It’s been very hard for Bridget - apart from the pressure of lockdown, her father passed away and she couldn’t go to the funeral.

I’m glad we decided to live together but, looking back, I would have had some of the conversations with her sooner around her fears and questions."

Busi Giligili, Cape Town nanny, mother of one 

"I used to spend up to an hour and half getting to and from work on public transport, and would wake up at 5:00 to get my daughter ready for school in time. During lockdown, me and my daughter moved in with my employer.

We started off staying in the guest house, but now we’re all staying in the same house together. It’s quite nice because I used to arrive as they left for work, and leave as they came home, so I never knew them very well.

Now we spend more time together and we are learning more about each other. My daughter has also befriended their child, which is so nice.

Unfortunately I caught Covid-19 from my employer - but her husband is looking after both of us and my daughter, which I didn’t expect and am very happy with.

Lockdown hasn’t been easy, but I would be happy to keep living together. I learnt that you never know what will happen tomorrow, so always be ready."

Lindiwe Mcamgisa, Johannesburg nanny, mother of three

"Before lockdown it was simple. I would live at my boss’ house during the week, and spend my weekends at home in the Vaal. I made peace with the arrangement.

Once lockdown was announced, by God’s grace, my employer asked me and my three children to move in with her family. I was very grateful to keep my job, and to have my children with me, but I have other family and I am a very family-orientated person, so it was frustrating to not see my brothers at all for two months and to be so dependent on my boss.

It was hard working my job and looking after my own children too! It was tough, I felt like I was working two jobs at the same time. Even with the help from my employer to keep them entertained, it was a very exhausting time.

Lockdown has shown me that I’m stronger than I think I am."

Shannon Smuts Brauer, Cape Town mother of one

"Before lockdown, my nanny would have flexible hours based on public transport and her daughter’s lifts to school. We have a very relaxed relationship, and I feel very close to her.

Once lockdown was announced, we offered her our apartment while we stayed with our mom, which my nanny declined. But after the second week of lockdown, I was able to offer her and her daughter a place with us at my mom’s house, and since they were feeling bored and frustrated they accepted and joined us in Simonstown.

This meant we could keep her on full pay, and her responsibilities haven’t really changed and neither have her hours. We share meals and I cover the cost of food for her and her daughter.

It’s been challenging to feed two extra mouths with my business taking a down turn, but I love that my nanny and her daughter are really a part of the family with our children playing together.

Opening up our home was super beneficial to everyone and when the dust settles, we still need the people that care for our children around us. Be kind!" 

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