Thursday, October 24, 2013

Au Soir

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. 

And yet…

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.


  1. I think you should walk into the nearest pub and begin making friends. I could not imagine living in a environment where the young were not around. It's the energy they bring to a situation that keeps us all on our toes...or into our cups. But you already know all that, so I guess I'm just telling you, NO, Michael, you're not wrong in thinking there's a real issue there for those who look at life as we do...a perspective I shall spare our readers.

  2. This sounds like quite a quandry. I would not want to live far from a big city or far from multi-cultural neighbors and cultural events. Even people-watching in my environs has me watching people from every continent, except Antartica. I would not give that up willingly.

    Also, as I read the rules, what would happen with aging gay couples> Would they be banned?

    I think the rule about banning , aging parents living with an adult child is absurd.

    I'd say sell it and find something better for your retirement -- which sounds like it won't be for decades. (My mother made it on her own until 89.)

  3. I feel the need to quote my granny who passed away at 106. 'Growing old is compulsory but growing up is optional'.
    I'd give that place a wide berth. Buy a place on the beach, go for a paddle, eat ice cream (often) and misbehave.

  4. Thanks for the comments! The issue wasn't so much me as the model. Am I right in deducing that other countries - at least the US and the UK - don't have these rigid definitions for "retirement communities/villages"? Presumably there is some content to me observations in that case.
    By the way the question about gay couples is an interesting one and I don't know the answer. However, gay couples can marry in SA, so I guess they'd be okay.

  5. At age four, my niece went to visit her grand parents in a New Jersey retirement community. She asked to go outside and find other children to play with. When told that families with children were not allowed to own houses there, she said, "Then only mean people must live here."

  6. I don't know how else to describe the different approach to the retirement life in at least some US retirement communities than to post this headline from a recent publication: "STD Skyrocketing Among Seniors." And within the story one of the likely reasons cited is "more seniors are living in retirement communities, social hotspots for swinging single seniors."

    You can't make this stuff up.

  7. Thanks, Annamaria. Out of the mouths of babes etc.

    Jeff, somehow I don't think the average age of these communities is mid 80s!