Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
TWO domestic workers of Lusaka have been thrown in jail for stealing clothes and beers from their boss’s daughter worth K5,000.
When the two maids pleaded guilty to stealing, someone remarked that he would stick the ruling of that court case in his kitchen.
By inference, he was saying that his own domestic worker needed to know the outcome of the case, probably to dissuade her from pilfering from his house.
Another one remarked that the imprisonment of Stella Michelo, 45, and Eusibia Malambo, 27, employees of former First Lady Christine Kaseba, needed to send a warning to domestic workers who are fond of stealing from their employers.
The debate went on about how domestic workers of today have made it a habit to steal from their employers and this is despite being paid the recommended wage regularly.
On social media, there was a similar debate on domestic workers who have ‘long fingers’. The contest, though, was between one school of thought that felt Dr Kaseba’s maids deserved forgiveness from the ‘well-to-do family’, and another that felt the complainant in the case, Mwelwa Sata (Kaseba’s daughter), did the right thing to sue because theft is immoral, whether or not the victim is rich.
From what I picked from the different platforms that have been pondering over the matter, many domestic workers – maids and garden boys –have a habit of stealing from their employers.
For the sake of those who did not follow this case from the beginning, Michelo and Malambo, who were jointly charged with Zachariah Mulama for stealing from Mwelwa, were last week jailed for two months for theft by Magistrate Nsunge Chanda.
The two maids, on July 20 this year, stole seven tops, a dress and a pack of Heineken beer – all worth K5,000 from Mwelwa, who lives in Dr Kaseba’s house.
Michelo got three tops and a dress, whereas Malambo picked four tops.
The two women actually pleaded guilty in the case, but the garden boy, whose case is yet to be determined, pleaded not guilty, because, although he took some of the beer in question, he was allegedly just given by the maids.
“Theft is a very serious offence. It doesn’t matter the quantity of what has been stolen. There is no justification why you stole because you were being paid your salaries,” Magistrate Chanda said.
“I have to punish you to deter would-be offenders.”
The two maids gained entry to Mwelwa’s bedroom to steal her belongings.
It seems Mwelwa’s story is similar to those of many other people who hire domestic workers such as maids, child minders and garden boys.
Maids and nannies are the worst culprits when it comes to domestic theft because they work inside the house and, therefore, have access to household goods, money and food, among others.
A friend once remarked on Facebook that maids have prompted her to empty her pantry and stock groceries in her bedroom. The pantry and kitchen become easy targets for pilferage of groceries and food when the owner is not at home.
If I may ask, why do most domestic workers steal from employers?
Oftentimes, people claim that maids steal because their incomes are too meagre to see them through the month, and to survive, some are tempted to lift things from their master’s kitchen.
The minimum wage for domestic workers is about K522, which is far below the cost of the food basket for a family of four. On top of that, maids, some of them widows and single parents, need to pay rent and school fees for their children.
Others say it a case of the underprivileged with little or no food at home, failing to resist the temptation of helping themselves to the abundance of supplies in the homes where they work.
Some impoverished maids work in homes where there is too much food of which some of it goes to waste, so they take advantage of the situation to raid their master’s kitchen.
Then there are sticky-fingered maids, who justify dishonest acts by stating that certain employers are mean with food, and in ‘retaliation’, they steal.
Other maids claim they are never paid on time by relatively comfortable people, and to ‘punish’ them, they rip them off.
Nonetheless, from what I know, stealing is just a lifestyle and has nothing to do with one being poor or lowly paid.
Actually, there are well-salaried workers that steal from their companies to support extravagant lifestyles.
On the other hand, there are poorly paid workers, maids and garden boys inclusive, who will not get a penny without permission, despite their incomes being quite low.
I must actually mention that though some rotten nuts may be spoiling the name of faithful maids, good domestic workers with a clean work record still exist.
Perhaps, such maids are difficult to find because they are one in a million.
From my observation of happenings in urban areas, thieving maids resort to that way of life to keep up appearances because they opt for standards of living which their incomes cannot support.
The ladies apparently compete with peers in terms of dressing and upkeep at home, while others don’t want to be outdone in terms of the latest hairstyles and stocking of cosmetics.
In this era of Brazilian, Peruvian and Indian hair, women spend a fortune on their hair regardless of their income level.
Some actually incur huge debts to keep pace with the latest dress fashions and hairstyles.
I am sure some of you have heard stories of wives and mothers who squander money for food and school fees of children on beauty products and other personal effects.
Domestic workers are not immune from these lifestyle temptations of women, which, in my view, is the reason why Mwelwa Sata’s maids made off with her clothes.
In fact, when asked by Magistrate Chanda, the two maids told the court that although they stole, they were being paid their salaries.
Obviously, they stole their boss’s clothes to keep up appearances because this is what many of their colleagues are doing.
Nowadays, thieving domestic workers don’t just pilfer from food supplies in a home, they also make off with clothes, shoes, beauty products and many other luxurious non-essentials they could lay their fingers on.
The solution to this problem is for maids and many other women of our times to be content with the little that they have.
Well, I know that domestic workers deserve better pay and conditions of service, but this should be no justification for stealing.
Remember, living within your means makes life easier and keeps your heart contented.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA