African Women: A Political Ecomony by Meredeth Turshen (eds.)

By Meredeth Turshen (eds.)

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Further, since domestic labor does not produce surplus value, neither the domestic servant nor the housewife can be conceptualized, in the narrow economic sense, as exploited by capital in their performance of it. The essential difference between the position of the housewife and that of the domestic worker lies in the fact that the domestic worker provides a service that is directly paid for. The domestic worker works in exchange for a wage from the employer, is subject to control and supervision, and may be fired as well as hired.

Thus, for example, when considering how black women ended up filling the unskilled job of domestic service, it is vital to consider the differential way in which African men and women were proletarianized, and the way in which this process was structured by the sexual division of labor and gender relations in African society. From this perspective, the analysis of domestic service touches on three much broader issues: job segregation, the social relations of household domestic work, and the gender subordination of black women.

It also points to the need to situate domestic service within a broader discussion of the South African social formation. Domestic service is a deeply oppressive feature in the lives of thousands of African women, for many of whom it is the only possibility of wage labor. These women have much in common with domestic servants elsewhere in the world, in both neocolonial and advanced capitalist societies. But the context of apartheid capitalism gives domestic service a special dimension which we have tried to confront in this paper.

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