Nomagugu Sibanda is a nanny and housekeeper on SmartMaid — an on-demand app for home services that launched in mid-2020. She is from Zimbabwe and currently works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Migrants from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia often have limited documentation, and many find jobs in domestic service. Around 9% of female migrants and 6% of male migrants from these countries work in the sector in South Africa. Some secure live-in roles or work for a single employer, but many work as freelancers or on contracts, taking hourly or daily jobs. On-demand platforms such as SweepSouth and SmartMaid have emerged to link workers with clients. Workers using the apps say they earn on average 3,500 rand a month — more than the 2,600 rand that is typical for traditional contract workers doing similar tasks off the platforms and more than the 3,000 rand minimum monthly wage for full-time domestic workers.
(Note: $1 is approximately 14.40 rand.)
I won’t take any job that costs more than 20 rand [about $1.38] to get to. It’s nice to get work, but I don’t want to spend it all on travel. You have to use your common sense. When I get a booking, I look at the map carefully to see where it is before accepting a request.
Fortunately, I do have regular bookings. I have a client who’s booked me every Tuesday and Saturday. So, I know that I will have some work every week. They pay me through SmartMaid, which helps me to budget because I know what money is coming to my account. I do take random bookings as well. They pay better — 100 rand an hour, and they’re usually for a few hours. Regular bookings pay between 300 and 350 rand for a full day.
When I’m at my regular weekly client, I still check my phone for new requests. My client is based in Melrose Arch, and so, while I’m in the area, I like to go online and see if there might be other bookings. I was there yesterday, and at about 2 p.m., I got a message asking if I could go nearby to a client in Bramley. I messaged him via the app and said I was in the area but not yet finished with my work for the day. Luckily, he said, no problem, I can come the following day. He made a booking for 9 a.m.
I left Joburg at 8:15 a.m. to go to Bramley. The taxi cost 12 rand. I usually wear my SmartMaid T-shirt when I leave the house, so I don’t need to change before I start work. But I do keep a spare T-shirt in my handbag, in case I want to wear something clean when I’m going back home. I prefer to wear just a normal skirt and a T-shirt, so I’m comfortable when I’m working.
When I got there, the client told me he wanted me to clean but not do any laundry. His house was big, and he had a lot of rules — he was worried about Covid-19 and said I had to make sure I didn’t make him sick. I had to sanitize my hands regularly.
When I work, I don’t like to play music on my phone or have the TV on in the background. I like silence. Sometimes I will sing softly while I work. Some clients will leave their TV on for me, but I will switch it off.
With this sort of work, it’s not just about cleaning. You have to make sure your client is happy with you. I try to learn what clients prefer. I also try to see their mood. I try to figure out how they would want something done, not just do what they want done. But I also make sure I mind my own business. There are clients I have who are two young men. I have seen so many different girls at their place but will never say anything. I don’t even greet the girls; I just keep quiet and mind my own business.
Because I could tell that the Bramley client was big on hygiene, I even took my shoes off when I went to clean the bedrooms. He had carpets. I also did his ironing and changed the bedding. After I’d finished everything, the client told me to rake his garden. The booking had been just for cleaning, not gardening. I decided I’d do it — but I told myself that if he booked me again, then next time I would tell him, No, my work doesn’t include the garden. I’m glad I did this, because when I left, he said he would book me again. And he did.
I finished work there around 1 p.m. He was going to pay me cash but then didn’t want to use all the cash he had on him. So, he ended up paying me via e-wallet. I withdrew the money on my way home. When I get paid in cash like this, SmartMaid takes their admin fee from my next booking.
This is the sort of booking that I like. I get paid for more than if I work a full day, and then I still get to go home and spend time with my child. I’ve been on the app for almost a year. Before I was working as a hairdresser. Work there became tough during the lockdown. When a friend told me about the app, I decided to join because I needed work. I still do hairdressing, but when I’m too tired, I don’t switch on the app. Most of the time, when I’ve done a half-day request, I just want to go home. Sometimes though, I’ll check on the app to see if there are any other requests nearby. I like that I can make my own choices and manage my own time. It feels like I’m working for myself.