On 22 November 2023, SERI and the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) hosted a commemorative dialogue entitled "Three Years after Mahlangu: Taking Stock of Domestic Work in South Africa". The event marked the third anniversary of the landmark Constitutional Court judgment in the matter Mahlangu v Minister of Labour. In November 2020, the Court declared the constitutional invalidity of section 1(xix)(v) of COIDA, which excluded domestic workers employed in private households from the definition of "employee". Significantly, the Court also ruled that domestic workers and dependants who have experienced work-related injuries, diseases or death as far back as 27 April 1994 are also able to submit claims.
The dialogues aim to bring together government, civil society organisations representing domestic workers and employers, and members of the public to discuss key issues in the sector and collectively explore solutions. The focus of this dialogue was to reflect on why there had been less than twenty claims from domestic workers three years after the victorious judgment.
The event comprised a keynote address by former acting Judge of the Constitutional Court Margaret Victor, who penned the majority judgment in the Sylvia Mahlangu case. This was followed by inputs from a panel of speakers, namely: Maggie Mthombeni (Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance), Jane Barret (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising & Organising), and former Constitutional Court Justice Zak Yakoob. Amandla.mobi founding executive director and civic activist, Koketso Moeti, facilitated the conversation. Unfortunately, the Compensation Fund was unable to join the panel of speakers.
The event began with welcome and opening remarks from NMF’s Head of Dialogue & Advocacy, Sumaya Hendricks. Sumaya emphasized the importance of going beyond the dialogues and the need to see meaningful progress in improving the actual working conditions for domestic workers. Koketso Moeti followed the opening will a call for a moment of reflection about how domestic workers are treated in South Africa and what can we do to protect and promote the rights of domestic workers by making use of SERI’s Domestic Workers’ guides. Before handing over to the keynote speaker, Koketso stated –
“We should normalize that even though your private household is personal, it is a place of labour for someone and therefore the very same things we expect at our workplaces should be granted to those who work in our homes”.
In Judge Margaret Victor's keynote address, she gave the history of the Mahlangu case and the tragedy that befell the late Maria Mahlangu, noting that her death had changed the rights of domestic workers in South Africa. She noted that the work domestic workers do is undervalued and not seen as “real” work, and that domestic workers face a unique plight and discrimination at an intersectional level, domestic workers are discriminated in terms of race, sex, gender, class and nationality. She explained why intersectionality and the principle of Ubuntu were vital for penning the judgment.
Jane Barret remarked on the unacceptable gap between law and implementation when it comes to COIDA and the lack of domestic workers registration. Jane lamented on the lack of will on the part of domestic workers employers to register domestic workers for COIDA.
Maggie Mthombeni focused on the plight of undocumented domestic workers who are vulnerable to abuse by their employers. Undocumented migrant domestic workers and South African domestic don’t not enjoy the benefits of COIDA because there is no penalty imposed for lack compliance by the employers.
Judge Zak Yacoob spoke about the importance of organizing and engaging people to rally behind the struggle of domestic workers. He further suggested a formation of a domestic workers network, where different organisations come together and work out a strategy to further the cause of domestic workers. This is a matter of urgency he emphasized. Lastly, Judge Zak Yacoob availed himself to be part of the people whom the different stakeholders like the Department of Labour, Compensation Fund, civil society actors, and domestic workers unions to engage for the advancement of domestic worker rights.