Nightshift

1nightshiftweb_530_327_90In the early 1980s I made a series of slide and tape shows for the Human Awareness Programme, which hoped to educate and prepare (largely white) South Africans for democracy.Nightshift (1980) is the story of the day and night in the life of Maureen Sit hole, an unregistered nursing assistant in a white old age home in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. I also made Black History a six-part series on the history  of resistance to apartheid (1980),Good News  an analysis of SATV news under apartheid, Bitter Harvest, on the plight of farm workers and 'Women Speak, on the position of women and the growing women's movement (1989). None of these programmes survived. Below are the photographs and an edited interview with Sithole, which formed the basis of the script of Nightshift.

 

Nightshift gallery

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Maureen left her previous job as a machinist in a knitwear factory because she wanted to learn the skill of caring for people. This is her story.

"Oh well, I am a nurse, nursing the old. I work nights, night shift only. We start at 5.30 p.m. and work until 6.30 in the morning. I go by bus.

The first thing we do is make sure that the ward is tidy. Then you look at your patients to see how they are. Maybe you find bruises, or the patient has changed. Then you make tea, feed them - those who can't feed themselves. After tea you go to the kitchen. We wash up and tidy the place. Then back to the wards.

Now we do two-hourly turning, three times a night. You turn them and you rub that other side. Four o'clock, you wake them and wash them. Then tidy up the beds, put on clean llinen. That's all for the night.

The work is all right, there is nothing wrong with it. The old ladies are all right - they give us no trouble. With my job I am satisfied. This is the thing I want to do. But I am not satisfied with the salary. I earn R100 a month. We even have to buy our own uniforms with that R100.

I have liked nursing from childhood, to be of help to the society. Not for my own benefit, not for gain - I mean to have that knowledge of helping the sick. I used to feel pity for a person who can't do anything for herself.

It takes me a long time to get home from work. I reach home at about 8.30 a.m. or quarter to nine. When I get home the first thing I do is make myself a cup of tea. Then if my daughter is not home I must see about the house, tidy up, make the bed. Then I sleep for a few hours. Two hours or three. Sometomes twelve to two, sometime eleven to two. But I don't sleep longer than that - that's for sure. On the weekends it's worse. I don't sleep at all on weekends. We have got neighbours this side and that side and they are drinking. They are so noisy, they open up their grams and you can't sleep at all when there is a noise.

We work seven days on and three days off. Seven days, you must work it. I am tired at the end of seven days but I do manage. Sometimes you feel funny. Sometimes you feel fresh. There are days when you feel sleepy during the night. You must feel drowsy, like it or not.

I used to work in a factory. I was a machinist there. I left that job because I wanted to be a nurse. I saw this advertisement in a newspaper. They said they would train a person to be a nurse aide. Now I am here I find they don't train us formally. I want a nurse aide certificate, but I can't get it here even though I do all the work a nurse aide would do. It's because this place is not registered, so we can't get certificates from here.

Now I am doing a separate course to get my nurse aide certificate. I have to go to lectures in the day, twice a week. I have to pay for that out of my wages. It also means there are two days a week when I get no sleep at all."

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