Original Articles

Domestic Workers' Experiences of Power and Oppression in South Africa

Published in: Journal of Psychology in Africa
Volume 16, issue 2, 2006 , pages: 205–213
DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2006.10820124
Author(s): Fiona M. DonaldSchool of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand,, Lerato MahlatjiSchool of Human and Community Development, University of the Witwatersrand,


This study examines the work experiences of domestic workers in the context of socio-economic-political legislation promulgated to protect their social rights in the new South Africa. It gains insight into the power relations and embedded tensions between employers and domestic workers with the aim of identifying forms of oppression affecting domestic workers. In-depth interviews were conducted with nine female domestic workers employed in African households and analyzed using thematic content analysis. Results indicate that despite inclusion in labour legislation, domestic workers remain a vulnerable group. They experience oppression in the form of exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, violence and some class-based cultural imperialism. Despite this, agency and resistance in the face of oppression was a key finding. Although some gains may have been obtained through inclusion in legislation, the asymmetrical power relationship with employers remains problematic.

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