Thembi the domestic worker - how she became an internet sensation and divided SA
Thembi Ubisi and Malcolm Wentzel have given South Africans a glimpse into their lives and relationship through videos shared via TikTok.
The videos have received thousands of views and shares across social media platforms, but not everyone is a fan.
In one of the videos, Thembi, a domestic worker, wears her employer's jacket after he asked if she wasn’t feeling cold. She told him, “today it’s f*** cold, I want this one. It’s very nice.” Wentzel laughs and responds, “leave my lekker jacket alone, ya, that one is nice, it’s antifreeze.”
Some have accused Wentzel of exploiting Thembi.
These videos feel exploitative. Thembi is being used as Malcom’s pawn to feed his white savior complex. It’s almost his way of reinforcing his wealth while making her seem like spoiled and almost greedy - like she’s taking from him. It’s very madam and eve-esque. https://t.co/yPJNx1I820— Your Fav Step Mom (@NontshiShange) June 20, 2020
Stop turning domestic workers into social media content.— Jamil F. Khan (@JamilFarouk) June 19, 2020
These Thembi videos are leaving a sour taste in my mouth. I really don’t enjoy them. The (reinforced) power dynamics, the tone... it’s just off. Or is it just me?— Phaṱhu (@PhathuMusitha) June 19, 2020
Some of SA’s most famous and influential people including Mmusi Maimane have called on brands and companies to give the domestic employee endorsement deals, saying her sense of humour and bubbly personality could make her a lot of money.
Others suggested that the two start a YouTube web series where they would document their days, or have Thembi review domestic cleaning products.
I am sure there are some brands that could use Thembi as an influencer.— King of Leon. (@MightiJamie) June 20, 2020
The streets love her energy and personality. Based on her current job - she could niche and do MAC washing powder ,Mr Min etc . The kitchen has lots of products and appliances. pic.twitter.com/IFkd6OYQ6X
Twitter likes fake caring yong 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 Thembi and Malcom’s videos reflects a new dawn on South Africa. Call me naive not every white person is a racist.— THE BLACK JEW (MOSHABI) (@swartblack) June 20, 2020
Thembi and Malcolm speak
On Sunday, News24 reported that Thembi has been Wentzel's employee for nine years. She said she had been unaware that he was filming for TikTok, but said the love shown to her on social media makes her happy. She told the publication that she has been flooded with calls from people in her area.
Wentzel, who works as a consultant in the mining sector, said he does not consider Thembi as just someone who works for him, saying “we work together”.
Wentzel has been accused of exploiting Thembi to gain social media fame, and of “feeding his white saviour ego”.
Wentzel has noted the comments about race.
In his latest video, he said, “thanks for making us trend on Twitter, just a special thanks for the people that bring in race in the most positive thing we are doing here.” He then turns to Thembi and says, “come, let's bring them [race]. Thembi can be seen getting packets of rice [pronounced rys in Afrikaans] from the grocery cupboard.