theology from the maid’s room

January 6, 2010

Our little community of people moved to another house over the past few days. Some from our moved away, most stayed on, and we we’re blessed (to my wee bit more evangelical friends reading this, there is no sarcasm in my tone) with a real-life philosopher. One that not only know how to pronounce Foucault’s name (already worth mentioning in the Afrikaans community), but actually know what the guy wrote as well! So if my posts become somewhat more philosophical this year, know that community is happening.

Moving has become a habit over the past few years. This is the fourth place I call home in 4 years. Looking for a place to live, and thinking about what space mean, has become a habit as well in the process. Our current home, as with the previous one, has the world of Apartheid still fixed into it. Last year I somehow just ignored is (actually considering this fact was too difficult), this year it was in my face, and easier to consider, so I’m writing about it.

South African homes in suburban areas have a small single room built outside which is/was usually used as a maid’s (a word which is much more degrading in the Afrikaans language than the English language) room. It was the place where benevolent rich suburb-dwellers gave a place to stay for poor woman who were lucky enough to get a job cleaning their home. Now don’t get me wrong. I know of many houses where there is an extremely good relationship between the domestic worker and the owners, and many who really took the trouble to build a relationship with this person over years. But still the room speaks for itself.

2.75 x 3m large, it is smaller than any of the rooms in the house, and this was supposed to be a full living unit for someone. The bathroom is simply a toilet with a shower-head about it (see picture), no washing basin, no tap whatsoever in either the room or the bathroom. Furthermore, the existence of this room is a reminder of the fact that to get a job, some woman had to leave her husband and children behind. Somewhere a child grew up without a mother, since she wasn’t allowed to live close enough to where she work, and thus had to make use of this room in the suburbs. And obviously be locked up in it after the bell sounded to mark the time when all blacks should be of the streets.

This is now my office. As I’m reading and writing about contextual theology, postcolonial theology, emerging theology, I’m doing it from the context of this room which signifies the Apartheid era. No one took the time to clean it up. The estate agents and previous renters obviously didn’t even consider the fact that a white man might want to use this room for something. And who would want to clean this room for a black domestic worker? In this room I found a small diary from 2008, written in an African language which I don’t understand. This small reminder of the Apartheid era was still used a year ago. I cannot read the diary, but I wonder whether the theology that will be written in this room will help the plight of the black woman who wrote that diary.

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5 Responses to “theology from the maid’s room”

  1. Cori Says:

    I love the idea of your using a space that was previously, as you describe it, quite demeaning, for a completely transformed purpose. These are indeed stark reminders of where we’ve come from that we easily forget or look past. And for some (or even many?), it’s not something we’ve left behind but is still part of our daily reality.

  2. Francois Redelinghuys Says:

    Hi Cobus. As always, I thoroughly enjoy your views and your approach to life itself. I learn something from you everytime, it gives me something to think about. Can’t wait for our next conversation! Keep up the good work… As I know you will.


  3. […] Jenny Hillebrand gives us Carpenter’s Shoes: Postcolonial Thoughts; Cobus van Wyngaard writes theology from the maid’s room: my contemplations; and from farther afield (and more academically inclined) The Task of the Postcolonial Theologian […]


  4. […] individualism and using less space in the long run (primarily for ecological reasons). This year the space in which I had my office, as part of the community in which I live, also had important […]

  5. Arabella Barbour Says:

    Hi, I left South Africa when I was 9 in 1965. I am writing a memoir and do not know the correct spelling for what was commonly known as the maids “Kaiya” Can you help me, please?


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