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At Home with Apartheid

At Home with Apartheid: The Hidden Landscapes of Domestic Service in Johannesburg

Rebecca Ginsburg
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    At Home with Apartheid
    Book Description:

    Despite their peaceful, bucolic appearance, the tree-lined streets of South African suburbia were no refuge from the racial tensions and indignities of apartheid's most repressive years. InAt Home with Apartheid,Rebecca Ginsburg provides an intimate examination of the cultural landscapes of Johannesburg's middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods during the height of apartheid (c. 1960-1975) and incorporates recent scholarship on gender, the home, and family.

    More subtly but no less significantly than factory floors, squatter camps, prisons, and courtrooms, the homes of white South Africans were sites of important contests between white privilege and black aspiration. Subtle negotiations within the domestic sphere between white, mostly female, householders and their black domestic workers, also primarily women, played out over and around this space. These seemingly mundane, private conflicts were part of larger contemporary struggles between whites and blacks over territory and power.

    Ginsburg gives special attention to the distinct social and racial geographies produced by the workers' detached living quarters, designed by builders and architects as landscape complements to the main houses. Ranch houses, Italianate villas, modernist cubes, and Victorian bungalows filled Johannesburg's suburbs. What distinguished these neighborhoods from their precedents in the United States or the United Kingdom was the presence of the ubiquitous back rooms and of the African women who inhabited them in these otherwise exclusively white areas.

    The author conducted more than seventy-five personal interviews for this book, an approach that sets it apart from other architectural histories. In addition to these oral accounts, Ginsburg draws from plans, drawings, and onsite analysis of the physical properties themselves. While the issues addressed span the disciplines of South African and architectural history, feminist studies, material culture studies, and psychology, the book's strong narrative, powerful oral histories, and compelling subject matter bring the neighborhoods and residents it examines vividly to life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3164-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Apartheid was good for no one, but there was nobody for whom it was worse than African women. The government’s discriminatory policies weighed more heavily upon them than on any other group, limiting their financial and personal options and leaving most viciously poor. Many women, at some point in their lives, turned to domestic service within whites’ houses to support themselves and their families. South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, was their primary destination, and though most did not qualify under apartheid laws to seek employment there, they made the journey anyway.

    “ Working in the kitchens” or “working in the...

  5. ONE Getting to Know the Corners
    (pp. 29-53)

    From barren ostrich farms in the Northern Cape, from small Transvaal towns where a person had to step off the sidewalk when a white adult approached, from crowded resettlement camps where the dispossessed squeezed onto the slivers of land that the South African government had dumped them on, Johannesburg beckoned the women. Various dreams and demons chased them to the city. Most importantly, iGoli, the Golden City, was the source of money for food for children whose growling stomachs could no longer be appeased with watery gruel, but a job in Johannesburg had other value as well: independence from absconded...

  6. TWO The Tempo of kitchen Life
    (pp. 54-89)

    At the sound of her alarm, Rose—the name she used in the city, since few whites would make even an effort to pronounce Nkululeko—lifted herself from her narrow bed. She groped for the clock to stop the harsh ringing. There, blessed silence, at least for now. If it was winter and still dark, she might switch on the single electric bulb or light the paraffin lamp that sat on the floor. Her day had begun.

    Perhaps it was her first week in this position; or maybe she had been with the family in this very yard for upward...

  7. THREE Children and Leaving
    (pp. 90-111)

    Children deserve their own chapter. African or white, present or absent—they, more than anything else, set the stage for a woman’s emotional experience of domestic work and colored the way she regarded the things and scenes around her. The subject was a complicated and sensitive one, not least to the women concerned. Children, one’s own or one’s charges, could be the source of some of the most satisfying aspects of domestic work, but also some of the most frustrating and infuriating. One’s own children made the labors bearable, while white children could drive a woman to tears of aggravation....

  8. FOUR Come in the Dark
    (pp. 112-137)

    Dark, cloudy nights were best. Or those evenings when the moon was so new it appeared as a tiny sliver against the black sky. Wind, too, was good, because howling and the sound of branches scraping on window panes could drown out other noises, like the squeak of a rusty gate turning on worn hinges or the tread of a man’s heavy footsteps on the driveway paving.

    He would walk slowly past the side of the house. If master had parked the car in the driveway, its bulky shape might provide a useful cover. Now he could be seen neither...

  9. FIVE House Rules
    (pp. 138-163)

    White South Africans had a problem. Middle-class Johannesburgers depended on African labor to give them practical help and social status by maintaining their homes and looking after them and their families. To do their jobs well, workers needed to get inside the head of each white family member, anticipating their movements, intentions, and wishes at any given moment. “Just like that. We knew one another just like this, the insides of our hands. In and out,” as one worker said of her madam.¹ The intimacy that could exist between household members cannot be overstated. Indeed, in many cases the best...

  10. SIX From Homes with Apartheid
    (pp. 164-182)

    Imagine a middle-class house in the Northern Suburbs in the 1960s. Place nothing extraordinary in the scene, no unusual architectural features or exotic pets or idiosyncratic art hanging on the walls. The house can be either one-story or two-, on perhaps a quarter-acre lot that has a well-tended flower garden in the front, a one-car garage at the side, next to the domestic worker’s room, and an above-ground swimming pool in the back. A large sliding-glass door connects the family room to the backyard, and from our vantage point we can see most of that room, the kitchen beyond it,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 183-196)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-216)
  13. Index
    (pp. 217-230)