This is a rather odd post because it doesn’t address any of our usual MIE topics. No crime, no southern African focus, nothing about writers and writing. No sharp political commentary or droll wit (or should the adjectives be swapped over?) It is not even a plug for any of our books. But it is an issue that has been in my mind over the last week.
My stepmother is an extraordinary person. She made her way to the headship of a department at the University of Cape Town in the days when it definitely was NOT an advantage to be a woman. She was an innovative researcher in the social sciences in a context where South Africa was shunned by the rest of the world. She was frequently called as an expert witness in mitigation in trials of ANC members who had been found guilty of overstepping the apartheid government’s laws. That made her unpopular with powerful people, and that didn’t faze her one bit. She has been described as one of the very few people who speak the same way as they write. She is unforgiving of any liberties taken with the English language as Stan and I know only too well! But she has greatly helped us to improve our writing and we thank her for that in the books.
Last Wednesday was her ninetieth birthday. It was a very festive occasion (although I was shocked that only one bottle of champagne was drunk). Only a small group was available for the dinner in her honor. She lives in a retirement village in Knysna and none of her family lives close by. I was the only one able to grab a few days away to make the trip.
|Cottages at Belvidere Park|
Actually, it is the retirement village I want to talk about. It’s in a beautiful location with a wide expansive view of the Knysna lagoon only a short walk away. She and my father bought into the complex when it was being developed and moved there from Cape Town once it was complete. It seems like paradise.
I don’t know what the rules for such places are elsewhere in the world, but in South Africa they are quite strict. You must be over 50 years old to reside there (no problem with that one in my case!) and only two people are allowed to live in a cottage - husband and wife. Yet most have three bedrooms. Obviously visitors are fine and children and grandkids appear regularly for summer holidays. But one lady was not able to bring her elderly mother to live with her. No one can have a (grown up) son or daughter stay there for any length of time.
Twenty years ago when the development opened, there was quite an age spread mainly in the 50-70 year range. (Few people older than that would move to a new environment.) I imagined that natural demographics would mean that the population would settle to a mix of people in the 55-85 year age groups, but that proved to be naïve. As the first buyers aged, the units that became available seem to have been bought by people in about an equivalent age category. So the average age went up year by year. It is now over 80.
So what is my point? These are lucky people. They live in a secure and beautiful environment which attracts visits from their families. But few have families close by. Knysna is not a big town, there is little for young people looking for jobs and schools. Yet there are some, and the environment would suit some of them. Is it sensible to construct a rule structure which prevents younger people renting, living there for a period of time, maybe settling permanently as they get older? Would it not be a more attractive environment (for the older people) if there was a mix of people with different interests and at different stages in their lives? By creating the rigid protection of the Act that covers these types of developments, have we rather created a cocoon in which elderly people become old with only other old people for company?
I stand to inherit this cottage one day in, regrettably, the not too distant future. Right now I feel I’m too young to live there! And I’m 66! Is there a real issue here, or am I just looking a gift horse in the mouth?
Michael (in a peculiar mood) on Thursday.