- Class and social reproduction in migrant households in a South African community
Vignette: intensive attention in the Mabena household1
At 05:30 every morning, Thuli Mabena is woken by the murmurs and sounds coming from Elizabeth Mabena's room. Thuli gets up and goes to Elizabeth's room where she washes her face with a warm, moist facecloth and changes her diaper. After she has fed Elizabeth her cereal, she carries her to the bathroom and gives her a bath. Once Elizabeth is dressed Thuli places her gently on the couch in the living room and switches on the television. In the background, Sindile, Thuli's sister, is getting ready to go to work at Ladysmith General Hospital. She greets Elizabeth on her way through the living room to the front door.
During the course of the day, Thuli will clean and change Elizabeth's diaper, feed her and change her position. While Thuli is ministering to Elizabeth, she chats and jokes with her. Elizabeth responds with badly formed words and facial expressions, all of which Thuli seems to understand. Mid-morning she reads Elizabeth one or two articles from the local newspaper. Elizabeth's eyes follow Thuli wherever she goes, and she makes sharp noises to draw Thuli's attention to something exciting on television.
Thuli Mabena is a 45-year old unmarried woman with three children and Elizabeth Mabena is her 73-year old mother. They live with Thuli's three children and Sindile in a well-furnished three-bedroomed house in Ezakheni C-section. Elizabeth spends her days on a couch in the living room, excited by the daily visits and one-sided chatter of her brother, Michael Khumalo. She is incapacitated by a severe stroke from which it is doubtful she will ever recover fully. Although her eyes signal understanding and interest, her speech is incomprehensible and she is unable to walk. She is in diapers and every 30 minutes Thuli has to change her position to prevent sores from forming. Thuli carries her mother from room to room as the need arises. Elizabeth is emaciated, which makes carrying her easier, but it is a cause of concern about her general well-being as well as the increased likelihood of bedsores. At night Sindile, a nurse, 'guards' her. [End Page 104] Sindile is getting married soon and will move into her husband's household in Johannesburg. Elizabeth Mabena's two sons are not involved in the care of their mother at all as 'they have their own homes'.
In November 2006 Thuli moved out of her mother's house and enjoyed having her own place to go to at night. However, as she feared, her siblings asked her to move back with her mother. Her two sisters are both nurses - Thembe at Denel Military Hospital in Tswane and Sindile in Ladysmith. Sindile has already secured a position at Johannesburg General Hospital. Thuli's nieces, Thuthuka and Thembe, work as an office manager at McCarthy Motors in Johannesburg and a nurse in a mobile clinic in Vosloorus. Thuli feels that her two sisters think she is inferior as they are 'professionals' and she is not. Mrs Mabena needs the help of a healthcare professional. It is ironic that while Thuli has not trained as a nurse, she should have to provide this form of care to her mother.
She feels migration is 'good for some. Then they can come home and be proud [arrogant] with people who don't have anything. They have other ways and nice cars and clothes. It [migration] is not good for others that have to do everything at home'. Thuli is able to employ a domestic worker who is kind enough to help her lift and carry Gogo Mabena. However, she is solely responsible for her mother's care 'even weekends or when Sindile has to rest'. She wonders, 'Rest? When do I rest?'
To some extent the burden of caring for her mother is alleviated by the pleasure Thuli gets from spending so much time with her mother and 'knowing her'. Gogo Mabena's children all attended boarding school and Thuli feels that the intensive attention her...