‘Jezebels’, good girls and mine married quarters: Johannesburg, 1912

Eales, Kathy
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Sixty thousand black men were employed in 1912 as domestic servants on the Witwatersrand. Most white women disdained this 'Kaffir work' and in Johannesburg, there were less than 5 000 black women. Thus black men performed the tasks in white homes conventionally seen as women's work. "When I realise the extent to which this dangerous practice is carried, and the fewness of the complaints arising out of it," noted a contemporary observer, "I only marvel at the honour and faithfulness of the black man." Yet, in that same year, Johannesburg was wracked by white hysteria following two incidents of brutal rape of whits women by black men within fourteen months. Black male sexuality became the focus among whites of a more generalised fear of disorder, popularly termed 'the black peril', and 'house-boys' were made the butt of public prurience. No woman was deemed safe from their 'passions', and expectant fathers were said to mutter, "Thank God it's a boy" when their wives gave birth to sons. Clearly a safer - female - substitute was called for, yet most employers were reluctant to draw on the small pool of black women living in the city, whom they deemed unreliable and immoral. Consequently, many black women had difficulty finding formal paid employment and turned to the trade in illicit liquor and sex to subsist. This vindicated white employers' assumptions that black women were immoral and perpetuated the dominance of black men in domestic service. This chapter will explore these themes in more detail, and from there, review both white and black attempts to set the terms on which black women lived and worked in Johannesburg.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented October, 1988
Women, Black. South Africa. Johannesburg. Social conditions, Women, Black. Employment. South Africa. Johannesburg. History