MUGS labelled with the words “The Maid” and “The Gardener” did not go down well with social media users, prompting the national retail chain Pick nPay to remove the offending items from a franchise store shelf. Some social media users said it reminded them of the oppression experienced during apartheid, while others could not believe that 24 years into democracy such small minded thinking prevailed.

Twitter user @toni verna tweeted a picture of the mugs, saying she had seen them at the retailer’s Observatory Cape Town, branch and that she found them “hella problematic”.

Reacting to the post, Jamil Khan said domestic labour in the country had a long history of dehumanisation and racism attached to it. “One method was, and still is, to deny helpers use of household crockery and cutlery as they were considered unworthy and unhygienic. This labelling encourages that idea.” Another user, Zandy Thabethe, added: “Indeed we all know in some households the helper has her own cup, teapot, spoon, teaspoon, plate and made to sleep under the table. The tea is brewed on Monday for the whole week. “The former head of public relations at M Net, ex anchor of Carte Blanche and the director of Leapfrog Properties, Doreen Morris, also tweeted on how hurtful she found the mugs. She said it reminded her of how she had been treated when she worked as a domestic worker.

Pick n Pay spokesperson Janine Cara donna apologised, saying: “The mugs were purchased and put on sale by one of our franchisees at his store, without our knowledge.”We asked the franchisee to remove them immediately, which he did.”In selling these products, our franchisee was operating outside our rules on our permitted range of products. We have made it clear to him and all our franchisees that this is not acceptable. We expect all Pick n Pay franchisees to uphold our positive values of respect for others and inclusiveness.

” The CEO and founder of the home cleaning service provider SweepSouth, Aisha Pandor, described the production and sale of the mugs as completely unacceptable. “South Africa is still trying to address the wide ranging and far reaching impact of a painful past of racial discrimination and inequality and these mugs represent the idea of making a profit from that pain and a mockery of those injustices. These mugs opened up a lot of pent up hurt for both domestic workers and the children and grandchildren of domestic workers.

“Although Pick n Pay has rightly distanced themselves from the franchisee who stocked the mugs and had asked for their immediate removal, even having just had them on the shelves creates the impression that it is okay to make light of racist practices, having separate cups for ‘the help’, that was so pervasive in our country” Pandor added that the mugs were derogatory and encouraged levels of segregation fuelled by discrimination. “In a historical and unfortunately in some cases even present context in South Africa, it was a common practice to call domestic workers the ‘garden boy’ or ‘maid’, which itself is a shortened term for maiden, which means young girl or unmarried women, and as such I think we can all agree that it is incredibly derogatory to refer to adults as children. “But there was a far more insidious history that these mugs brought to the fore. Now, we should challenge friends or family who do this head on and ensure they are aware of the harm and lack of dignity this sort of practice and attitude conveys.”

The spokesperson of the South African  Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, Myrtle Witbooi, added: “We are workers who are constantly having to fight for decent work and our rights. The mugs are a horrible reminder for many that worked in homes during the apartheid years.” She said that despite the mugs being removed from the franchisee’s shelf, the damage had already been done. “Our struggle continues.”

This article was first published by The Post on the 06 November 2018