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An IDWF Tribute to Myrtle Witbooi

(31 August 1947 – 16 January 2023)

Domestic Worker, Beloved Leader, Mother of the Movement

January 16, 2023 marked the end of our time with an incredible woman, domestic worker, unionist, and president of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), Myrtle Witbooi. Not only has Myrtle changed the lives of those who crossed paths with her, but she also undoubtedly changed the conditions of domestic workers in South Africa and the world.

Myrtle first became the voice of the movement in South Africa, soon after she moved from her town of Genadendal to Cape Town at age 17 to work as a domestic worker. Experiencing blatant injustice first hand, she worked on liberation plights as a woman and a domestic worker under South Africa’s apartheid. With an innate drive for social justice and intrinsic leadership skills, she started organizing workers in the garage of her employer’s house. At the time, organizing domestic workers was deemed illegal by the apartheid state. Nonetheless, Myrtle’s efforts grew nationwide when she established the South Africa Domestic Workers Union (SADWU) and joined the African National Congress resistance movement.

When you ask us, what is it that domestic workers want? The answer is simple: we want what you have, rights, like any other worker.”

In 2008, Myrtle led the efforts of an international network of domestic workers to campaign for global labor standard for domestic workers, which resulted in the International Labor Convention on Domestic Work 189 in 2011. Two years later, Myrtle was elected the first president of the newly formed International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF), the first and only global union federation led by women.
Myrtle accomplished an immense task: she did not leave this world the way she found it. Myrtle has changed the world, and her legacy will continue to do so long after she has left us. In the spirit of her principles, courage, and compassion, we will honor her memory as we continue building upon her work to unite domestic workers worldwide. It has been a privilege to walk the world beside Myrtle Witbooi, to learn from her, and to have her lead our movement.
To send condolences to Myrtle’s family, please email: [email protected]
If you would like to leave a message, a prayer, a memory with Myrtle on the IDWF tribute page, use this form.