Driving Forces
Written by Kate Shuttleworth   
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 07:36

Domestic agencies come and go – a new one pops up every week it seems, often borrowing from Marvellous Maids. In George there is a rash of them, usually before season, which close round about Easter. A former client in Joburg did a placement with Marvellous Maids. Within a week or two, Maids 4 U appeared on the internet with the same product and wording as Marvellous Maids. Further investigation proved that they lifted our contract, words of advice and induction booklet almost word for word from our placement package. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Hah! I regard it as intellectual property theft and find it hugely irritating and it is this indolent lack of intellectual application that has been one of my driving forces.

Our first attempt at expansion was to employ managers for various areas. Two of them stayed just short of their 6 month contract and started up on their own with clients recruited through Marvellous Maids advertising, name and resources and one of them with a fair amount of money belonging to Marvellous Maids. We could have taken the legal route, but did not have the money or the heart to go into battle. Instead I decided to be bigger and better and was determined that they would never be a bleep on my radar, never mind competition.

Word got around that we had jobs for people and found jobs for people and spread beyond our borders. Soon we had people from Bulawayo to Blantyre, Kakamas to Koffiefontein and Saron to Smithfield knocking on our doors and were able to help many of them. Ntsediseng was from Smithfield and had been picking potatoes for R10 a day. She wept in despair when I said we could not help as we needed references for domestic work. What could I do? I took her home where she proved to be one of the best domestic workers I have ever had. What she lacked in skill she made up for in enthusiasm and a year later her broom still swept sparkly clean. I moved her on to a client who was prepared to pay double what I could afford. Ntsediseng has now brought her boys down from Smithfield and are at school in Brooklyn where she owns her own home.

Barely a week would go by without us arriving at work in the morning to find someone on our doorstep sitting on all their worldly possessions. “Madam, we have come for you”. And as they had nowhere to go, I would take them home. Fortunately we lived on a small farm outside Cape Town with plenty of accommodation, but sometimes the numbers would push 20. Clare trained them and we placed them. More jobs became available as they became more sought after, however as more people were placed, more and even more arrived. We needed to expand.

Both my daughters and their husbands already worked for Marvellous Maids. My cousin and his wife came down from Joburg to open up the Durbanville Northern Suburbs area but still we were under pressure for more jobs. And now we had run out of family.