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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

Aug 2014


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

The Long-Distance Grandparent Journeys To South Africa

Being a long-distance grandparent has its ups and downs. But the ups I have found far outweigh the downs. There are the myriad joys of seeing my daughter and son-in-law and the grandchildren after many months of being far from them. But I now have a new country to explore and to love. In addition to the two I know best, the U.S. and Great Britain, I can now include South Africa. The U.S. is my mother country, Great Britain is home through marriage, and South Africa is becoming my adopted land.

Ten years ago my son-in-law was asked by his London firm to go to Johannesburg to head the office there. It was to be for three years. It is now ten and there is no set date for return. The business has grown by leaps and bounds, my daughter has found fulfilling work and the children are flourishing.

South Africa is a Big Country

South Africa is a big country. It is roughly five times the size of Great Britain. In the last ten years on annual visits, I have journeyed through much of it, across the Great Karoo desert in the interior, to the peninsula city of Cape Town in the southwest, and to Durban and Zululand on the east coast, both with the family and on my own.

A good part of my visit is spent in Johannesburg, the financial and commercial centre of South Africa, fitting in with the daily routine of the family. Their home is in one of older suburbs, close to the downtown, on a tree-shaded street of detached single-family houses.

Fitting in with the Daily Routine

This is an early-rising household. Diana, my daughter, is up at 6:30 am to leave at 7:00 to drive the children, Georgia and Ben, to school and then on to her work. Nick, my son-in-law, follows, driving to his office. I come down from the guest room for a leisurely breakfast and a chat with Elsie, the housekeeper. She is from Limpopo, a province north of Jo’burg. Like many of the rural black Africans, Elsie is happy to find employment in a household in the city. She has her own quarters including her own kitchen and bath attached to the house.

Recently, Elsie proudly announced she was to attend the graduation of her son from university. With a qualification in human resources, he had already been offered a job. It was heartening to know that the new South Africa was working, at least for some of the young black Africans.

In the Afternoon

Diana will sometimes ask me to tag along on what she has to do that day. Last year it was the Jo’burg Art Week that she was working on. Over 50 galleries, art venues and events were to take place all around the city. Walking with her along the streets to check out last minute details with the gallery hosts, brings to life a vivid reminder of those who have settled this country. There is the Jan Smuts Boulevard that speaks of the Dutch who settled Cape Town in 1652. And Melrose Avenue that recalls the English who arrived in 1795. Makundo Road tells us of the native black Africans who lived here long before the Europeans landed.

And everywhere is the name of Mandela. Nelson Mandela, who, in 1994, as the first democratically elected President, brought an end to centuries old oppression and the horrific system of apartheid where blacks were forced to live separately from whites and in economic deprivation.

The School Run

Late in the afternoon we’ll go to pick up the grandchildren from their schools. Here the heritage of the English is monumentally vivid. We go first to Georgia’s school, Roedean South Africa, founded more than one hundred years ago by one of the sisters who established the Roedean UK girl’s school on the cliffs above Brighton. She brought its tradition of academic excellence to benefit this African nation. Fortunately she did not have to bring with her the grey skies and cold sea air of the Sussex coast. Here white buildings and red roofs glow under the warm sunshine, surrounded by luxuriant green plants.

My recurring memory is of Georgia competing in an afternoon water polo tournament, I see her in the school’s sunlit outdoor pool. A centre forward, she is scoring the winning goal for her team.

I treasure a memory of Ben at his nearby school, walking off the cricket field towards me. I haven’t seen him in more than a year. I barely recognise this 13- year- old striding towards me, inches taller. He greets me with a warm hug and a kiss, not in the least embarrassed to display such affection in front of his mates, unlike many adolescents.

Ben’s school, St. John’s College, is also structured like an English public school. Courses are taught in English, but here in South Africa there is a difference. Students must learn Afrikaans (the dialect of the Dutch settlers) and one of the nine official tribal languages. For Georgia and Ben it is isiZulu, the language of Gauteng, their Jo’berg province.

Though there are some good state schools which will also be producing the nation’s business executives, the government ministers, the scientists and sports stars, there are too few. A better education for the black majority, so long denied, was a promise of the new democracy. But progress has been slow and sporadic. Every year, at the start of each term, you read in the newspapers of text books not arriving and of teachers who do not show up to teach because they haven’t been paid.

Weekends on the Game Reserve

A popular image of South Africa is of the game reserves and of the indigenous animals roaming free. How lucky I’ve been to spend long weekends with the family at the Mabula reserve, a two hour journey north of Jo’berg. Here they have a time share lodge which comes complete with a 4x4 safari vehicle.

We are up at dawn to go out on a game drive and in the early evening. We stop to let the elephant families, mothers, babies and adolescents, cross the track. It is not wise to get in their way. Giraffes’ tall necks appear above the trees to nibble on the topmost leaves. In a pond, Ben and Georgia spy the dark brown heads of the hippos just above the water’s surface. You don’t get too close to them.

At night, we sit around a campfire, sipping the good South African wine while waiting for dinner to grill on the braai. I have asked Georgia and Ben to sing the South African national anthem for me. It is a Xhosa hymn, full of joy and hope: ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika…. That’s “Lord Bless Africa… May her glory be lifted high.”

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