Maverick Citizen


Pinky Mashiane – fighting for domestic workers’ rights all in a day’s work

Pinky Mashiane – fighting for domestic workers’ rights all in a day’s work
Activist Pinky Mashiane. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

This is the point at which Pinky Mashiane realised that she had the power to change people’s lives for the better.

Walking through a wealthy suburb of Pretoria, Pinky saw a gardener being shouted at and threatened by his employer. Without thinking twice she marched through the gate, announced that she was from the Department of Labour and declared that she would have to report the employer for what she had just witnessed. 

She didn’t work for the Department of Labour, and she had no means to report the man for his abusive behaviour, but he believed her story, and tried to bribe her to not report him. Pinky refused the money and insisted that he give it to the gardener, along with an apology. She took both their numbers so that she could check that the mistreatment never happened again. 

It was at this point that she realised that she had the power to change people’s lives for the better. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:

Sesi Mahlangu likes to see children walking tall – and it starts with a pair of shoes

Let’s fix SA by getting our hands dirty and doing something that actively makes a difference

Unable to turn away from the need in Alexandra, Linda Twala continues to serve

Pinky Mashiane now works tirelessly for the rights of domestic workers around South Africa. On a regular workday, her phone will not stop ringing with requests for help from people who don’t know where else to turn. 

She started her professional life as a domestic worker but soon realised she could not tolerate the conditions and treatment that were considered normal. She became one of the most prominent voices for the rights of domestic workers around the country.

One of Pinky’s greatest achievements has been to get domestic workers included in Coida (the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act). This came about through her work on the landmark case of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who fell into a swimming pool and drowned. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Victory: ConCourt finally upholds domestic workers’ right to compensation and dignity

Pinky helps domestic workers and gardeners with a range of issues, including but not limited to:

  • Inhumane treatment – physical abuse, verbal abuse and sexual harassment;
  • Exploitation – underpaying, overworking and enforcing the minimum wage;
  • Accidental harm – dog attacks and injuries at work;
  • Wrongful termination – dismissal due to HIV status, wrongful accusations of theft, etc; and
  • Unfair deductions – withholding money for breakages, accommodation, etc.

All of this she does for almost no money, fiercely motivated by the fact that as long as her phone rings, there are people who need her. And it isn’t going to go quiet anytime soon.

What do you know about the legal rights of domestic workers and gardeners in South Africa? Head over to the Positive Actionism forum where Pinky will answer your questions and where we invite you to discuss anything related to this topic. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who don’t just talk but take direct action. The people you can go to when you don’t know where to turn; who won’t stop working for the change they want to see in the world. The Actionists is also a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa.

Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles a wide range of people around the country who are providing vital services, intuitive solutions and unrelenting activism. And through the website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide tangible ways for people to get involved. The intention is to inspire and inform, to challenge the idea that nothing is being done, to create a network of Actionists and to bring people who need help together with the people who can provide a solution. 

Daily Maverick will be running an Actionist profile every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next year. Get in touch, nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]


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