When Rumbidzai, a manager with a Harare supermarket chain, employed Nellia, an 18- year-old orphan, as a domestic worker in Harare, little did she know that she was headed for a serious conflict that would eventually cost her her marriage.
Nellia is now second wife to Ben, Rumbidzai’s husband, after he proposed to the young girl, who accepted and fell pregnant while working as a maid.
Ben, a company executive, argued that he was drawn towards the young girl after realising that Nellia had assumed all the wifely roles.
“Nellia was now the contact person for everything at the house.
“She knew where my underwear was kept, swept the bedroom, sometimes even when Rumbidzai and I were sleeping.
“She served me coffee in the bedroom. One thing led to the other and hence I find myself in this mess.
“I am not defending my actions because I was wrong, but what can I do now?
“I cannot dump her because she is an orphan. She takes good care of me and my children.”
It is for these reasons that the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (Zaoga) has established a new ministry, whose main objective is to improve relations between domestic workers and their mistresses.
Known as the Mary and Rhoda Ministry, the organisation was officially launched at a breakfast meeting that was attended by women and their domestic workers recently, to celebrate Zaoga’s 50th anniversary.
Apostle Eunor Guti who founded the ministry, said there was great misunderstanding between domestic workers and employers because neither was clear about their role in the home.
“These people are always scolding each other or sulking because Rhoda has taken over all the domestic duties while Mary, who is supposed to be in charge, sits and watches aloofly as Rhoda does all the work,” said Apostle Guti.
“The Rhodas are employed to assist, and I repeat assist, or help the Marys and that is how it is supposed to be,” said Apostle Guti. And why did she name it Mary and Rhoda Ministry?
Apostle Guti said this was biblical and referred to Acts 12:12-16, where Mary was praying with Rhoda and John Mark, the head of the family.
Rhoda was apparently the only person who heard the knock and when she told Mary that it was Peter at the door, Mary reacted by saying that she was completely out of her mind.
However, Rhoda insisted politely that she had heard the knock and when she opened the door, there stood Peter.
“This example shows you how humble Rhoda was to Mary. She was not angered by Mary’s assertion that she was crazy and yet these are some of the statements that bring conflict between domestic workers and their employers,” Apostle Guti said.
She also cited another scripture in 2 Kings 5:2 where an Israelite slave girl who worked for Naaman’s family advised them to take her mistress’ husband to her land for healing.
The slave girl told her mistress that leprosy was a very common illness in her land, Israel, and advised her to take her husband there for treatment.
She said to her mistress: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
The Israelite slave advised her mistress to go to Israel, the land they had defeated, for help. This statement could have brought serious conflict into the home had these two women not been faithful and true to each other.
“This could not have happened if the relationship between the mistress and the slave girl had been strained. She was a faithful and virtuous woman.
“The Rhodas cited here are humble people and it is this humility that brings peace between employer and employee.”
So why are domestic workers and their mistresses seemingly always at loggerheads?
Some of the reasons cited at the meeting included work overload and non-payment of wages.
“I worked non-stop all day long at my previous job and never received the correct wages at the end of the month. I was also not allowed to bathe during the day because my mistress feared that if I looked too good, her husband would turn his eyes to me,” said one domestic worker.
Apostle Guti reminded domestic workers that they were supposed to be helpers of their mistresses and that they should resist the temptation of falling into the arms of the head of the house.
“Rhoda akauya kuzobatsira Mary kwete John (Rhoda came to help Mary and not John the husband).
“But we find that the Rhodas take full charge of the domestic affairs, hence the reason I am counselling so many women over these issues.
“The bedroom is for the Marys and let there no be interchanging of roles as this may lead to regrets some day.”
There was a general consensus that issues and concerns faced by domestic workers were rarely discussed, and that there were no policies in place to protect their rights.
Coupled with illiteracy and ignorance of the law, many domestic workers are not able to stand up for their rights without support.
Mary and Rhoda Ministry could just become the organisation that will seek to harmonise work relationships in the home using the Bible for guidance.
There were tears of joy as domestic workers gave testimonies about how well they had been treated by their mistresses.
One domestic worker was offered a weekend booked at the Rainbow Towers in Harare, another one said she was now attending college twice a week, something her parents had failed to do for her because of poverty.
The ceremony ended on a very high note as some mistresses also showered their domestic workers with gifts and cash.
“Women should change attitude towards each other and appreciate the diverse backgrounds that we all come from.
“This way, you can adjust and learn more from each other, like Israelite slave girl did to her mistress,” said Apostle Guti.
Zaoga is one of the fastest growing churches in Africa, which has spread its wings to over 160 countries in the world.
Mary and Rhoda Ministry, which is expected to grow rapidly, is one of the 50 different ministries that fall under the church that is now found in over 160 countries of the world.