My mom was a domestic worker for many, many moons. And for years she would speak fondly of this woman she used to work for: Rosamund Erwin. She would always tell me things like how Mrs Erwin would always buy her a Cadbury’s Snack and how that chocolate became her favourite. Mrs Erwin’s son is [former Minister of Public Enterprises] Alec Erwin.
One day, when Alec was being interviewed on TV, my mom said, ‘I will never forget those big ears’.
Before my mom’s 70th birthday, I thought it would be nice to organise a reunion between the two of them. So I called Alec Erwin’s office, got his email address and mailed him. I didn’t expect a response, but lo and behold, the next day he mailed me saying his mom would love to see my mom. Mrs Erwin was living in Ireland, but was actually planning a trip to South Africa around that time – which was perfect timing. But on her second day back in South Africa, she had a nasty fall and broke her hip and had to be rushed back to Ireland. A few weeks later, she died.
I had kept her planned visit to see my mom in Cape Town a secret from my mom, because I wanted it to be a surprise. But when Mrs Erwin’s sister told me she had died, I showed my mom all the email communication. She just sobbed uncontrollably. Sy was baie lief vir daai vrou (She loved that woman very much), but she stopped working for her when Mrs Erwin relocated to Stellenbosch, which to my mom was very far away.
She spoke once about how Mrs Erwin came to visit her in hospital after my mom gave birth to her third child and how Mrs Erwin had then said, ‘Come with us, Cathy; come and live with us; come with your babies’. I think she regretted her decision to stop working for her. Ja, she really loved her… because she was treated, you know, like a human.
Hazel Allies, 40, as told to Carl Collison, the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail&Guardian