Athlone police have opened a case of common assault against Lydia Gwele's bosses. Picture: Jack Lestrade
Athlone police have opened a case of common assault against Lydia Gwele's bosses. Picture: Jack Lestrade

They kept me hostage, assaulted me and didn't pay wages, claims domestic worker

By Genevieve Serra/Daily Voice Time of article published Feb 6, 2020

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Cape Town - A 60-year-old domestic worker had to be rescued from her employers in Rylands, where she said conditions were “worse than Pollsmoor”.

Police have opened a case of common assault against her bosses after they allegedly beat her and kept her at the house without pay for 10 months.

A week ago, Lydia Gwele, was rescued from the Ernest Street house by Athlone police and her brother, Simphiwe Dukiso.

On Wednesday, Gwele told the Daily Voice she has lost more than 20kg since she was employed by the family.

Gwele has not been paid since she started working there in April and is still waiting for unpaid wages amounting to more than R30 000.

Last week, Gwele’s brother Simphiwe brought cops from Athlone police station to the house and they forced open the gates.

“I tried to call her in December, but we could not reach her,” he said.

“She made contact with me via someone in Rylands and said I must make an excuse like there was a sickness or death in the family so they could send her home because they were keeping her hostage. Last week Thursday, when the police and I were at the house, she was afraid and said she was OK. We went back on Saturday. They had beaten her and we managed to get her out because they had to hand her over to us.”

Gwele said her life was hell and compares it to being a prisoner in Pollsmoor.

“They took away my cellphone,” she said.

“They promised they would pay me R3 000 per month but I ended up cleaning an eight-bedroom house alone and I had to care for an old woman who was sick.

“I was only fed twice a day, at 10am and 3pm, and it was only bread, which they bought for the month and kept it in the fridge; and I had to drink black coffee. I could not go outside and their backyard was enclosed and I was not allowed to go to the shop. They would buy me stuff and never took me to the doctor. The one daughter would beat me on the back and they would scold me.”

Lydia Gwele lost 20kg while working for the family in Rylands, Ahlone. Picture: Supplied

The Daily Voice visited the house and tried to contact the family to no avail.

In 2010, the bosses were featured in the Daily Voice when the South African Domestic Service and Allied Union received reports they were mistreating their workers, hosing them with cold water and feeding them rotten fruit.

Police spokesperson Mihali Majikela confirmed a case of common assault has been opened for investigation.

Candice van Reenen of the Department of Labour urged Gwele to report the matter to the labour inspector.

“Penalties and interests are payable if an employer is found to be flouting labour laws in respect of the national minimum wage,” she said.

“Additional penalties may apply if the employee was not registered for the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).”

Daily Voice

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