EDITORIAL | Hope springs eternal in a country divided


EDITORIAL | Hope springs eternal in a country divided

Viral videos of ‘Thembi’ and ‘Malcolm’ tell tales of a country grappling with its past, but looking to a better future


Meet Thembi and Malcolm. These two have become internet sensations, mainly for the interesting and unusual relationship that exists between employer and domestic worker. Malcolm is, apparently, a white, Afrikaans guy who started posting videos on social networking site TikTok of his adventures with Thembi, who is apparently his helper. (It is necessary to use the word “apparently” because the possibility of a set-up or an advertising campaign cannot be discarded.) 

Their videos include one of Thembi squirting water at Malcolm, whom she accuses of having a “babelas”, to get him to get out of bed in the morning. Another shows Malcolm giving her a bottle of expensive champagne to take home on a Friday afternoon, after she rejects the cheaper bottle he first offers her. Yet another recording has emerged of the pair in the kitchen, with Malcolm sarcastically thanking South Africans for making their videos all about race. The only race he and Thembi know is “Tastic rys”, he says, with Thembi, per illustration, taking packets of rice out of the pantry and putting them on the kitchen counter.

South Africans’ reactions to this have been telling. Some adore the videos, with comments including, “I see no racism but love” and others begging for a reality show featuring the pair. Many were annoyed with “woke Twitter”, expressing concern that Thembi was being taken advantage of. But there were also comments such as, “The tone is just off” and “I am uncomfortable being amused by a black maid being entertainment for her white boss and his family”...

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