Robert Dempster
Welcome to my PMB blog, the fourty eigth!
To pack, or not pack for Perth
Grandchildren make for an interesting comparison.

Proudly South African South African flag


When I looked for a definition of a grandparent, I was drawn to the two I have listed above. I was already familiar with the first definition, and I was amused the second. If one looks beyond the enemy bit, it is the sharing that counts. Beyond one's own spouse and shared children, the next in line are the grandchildren. My wife and I have been blessed with two sets, one set live around the corner, and the other, on another continent. We are also fortunate in that we get to see a lot of the locals and the Australians at least one a year.

This situation is not new, as both my paternal and maternal great grandparents were faced with similar situations. They too ended up with grandchildren where some of their grandchildren at lived around the corner, and others were literally scattered to the four corners of the then British Empire. It must of course been very different then, as they were unlikely to see their migrating children again, and probably never see the grandchildren they produced.

What is interesting about this comparison for grandparents living in the New South Africa, is that the reasons for the migration two generations ago, are mostly no different from what they are now. Those that left, were seeking a better life for themselves and their own children. Furthermore, this seems to be what the emigrants achieved, as their siblings that stayed behind had to deal with a country severely affected by two World Wars. They in turn were arriving in countries not so badly affected and full of opportunities. Whether this will be the case for the current generation of emigrants will only be known once their children have grown up and started their own families.

I could of course try and make a comparison right now with respect to the current experiences of my own grandchildren. It is not altogether unreasonable to do so, as they are now all at school. While the comparisons I will make may seem superficial and of course untested, they never the less seem reasonable within my own context. The comparisons I will make will be in terms of their neighbourhood, schooling, and extra-curricular experiences, and are mostly limited to my own experiences, as I have interacted my grandchildren. I will use the abbreviations SA and WA to refer to the South Africans and the West Australians respectively.


Both families live in pleasant neighbourhoods. The SA neighbourhood is probably more attractive given that it is green all year round, undulating, if not hilly, and close to commercial forests and somewhat alien invested natural bush. The WA neighbourhood is grandchildren are very fortunate. These are of course my perceptions. That said, I would like to think that they are also fairly accurate and representative in terms of what the two sets of grandchildren experience.

If one ventures beyond these two neighbourhoods, the situation changes. In WA, unemployment is not a problem, and almost everyone enjoys a reasonable standard of living. That said, Perth also has its share of wealthy families and given that it is now one of the most expensive cities in which to live, this disparity may become an issue. Perth it would seem, is also hugely cosmopolitan, and I generally leave Perth wondering what it will mean to be an Australian is another 20-50 years time.

In SA unemployment is a huge problem and it is almost impossible to escape the effect it has on society. The New SA is now twenty years old and much has been achieved in terms of the provision of basic services such as housing, clean water, descent sanitation, electricity and basic health care. This is backed up by a hugely expanded social grant system. This is unfortunately not enough and the situation is not sustainable in the long term. Ultimately all South Africans able to work should have the opportunity to do so and to thereby not only improve their won of lot and self esteem, but that of the whole nation.

With respect to the safety of one's own person and property in WA, one never really feels threatened. Despite that there is a fair amount of signage that warns against theft and security systems are not unheard of. The behaviour of the public and their use of public facilities is generally exemplary. The manner in which they drive suggests that not only is the traffic in WA controlled, but that WA is being effectively governed.

This is not the case in SA. While I personally do not believe that South Africans generally live their lives feeling that their persons are being threatened, they are constantly aware of the possibility of theft and thus live life's that guard against it. The behaviour of the public and their use of public facilities is generally poor. South Africans do not have much respect for public property and the extent to which they litter, is an measure of this respect. The manner in which they drive suggests that traffic flow in SA controlled is determined by the extent of the goodwill of the people on the road in your vicinity at the time. Traffic Officers can be seen on National roads. They are seldom, if ever see within Pietermaritzburg.


Our children grew up in Pietermaritzburg, which was back then, and I guess still is, an educational hub for the Midlands and the hinterland of KwaZulu-Natal. They all went to excellent state schools which offered quality both inside and outside of the classrooms. They also all established friendships at school, some of which they are still maintaining.

Twenty years later the same state schools are still there. I would guess that they are still offering a good education, maybe an excellent education. I can't say for sure as I no longer have first hand experience of these schools. However from what I am able to observe, they are still well run, despite possibly not been as well resourced as they once were. If anything has changed, it would have to be that the matriculation pass that students leave with these days, does not carry the same weight as the one earned twenty years ago. Children also no longer ride to school, mostly because of security and road safety issues, and probably because lifestyle changes and children attending schools that are more remote than the locally school.

The WA grandchildren both attend an excellent state state school. The two secondary state schools in their zone are supposedly amongst the best in the state. The schools do not offer extracurricular programmes and those children that have a sporting, cultural, or artistic interest that extends beyond what is offered within the classroom, must join neighbourhood clubs in order to pursue those interests. These clubs are plentiful and should probably have been mentioned in the previous section. The children get to school using various modes of transport. Skateboarding is not excluded. While safety does not seem to be a concern, children under the age of thirteen are not allowed to return to a home that is not being supervised by an adult.

The eldest local grandchild has just started 'BIG SCHOOL'. He goes to a private primary school for boys. I have always thought highly of the school and it seems to be living up to expectations thus far. It is a beautiful school and could easily be used as a film set. It does offer all manner of extracurricular activities and these may be considered by some parents to be of greater value than the basic education that is being offered. It does of course not come cheap. I doubt that anyone cycles to school. In mitigation, I should also add that the local terrain probably rules cycling as a mode of transport. Safety would also be an issue.

Family and friends

Our children grew up in a short road that was a dead end for vehicular traffic. That meant that the road literally became a communal extension of the family property. The children living in the area spent a lot of time either socialising locally o riding bikes to do the same with friends elsewhere. I thought it was a tremendous environment within which to grow up. We did not have any family in PMB, but we did have friends and quite of these friends were friends that came about as a result of the respective children having befriended each other.

I do not have enough experience of the WA scene to really comment. If anything, I have been surprised by the lack of neighbourhood interaction between children. To be fair, the Perth weather during January (when we normally visit) more or less rules out any outdoor play during the day. In addition, both parents are probably at work and this would mean that the children are in some kind of after school or vacation care facility.

The PMB grandchildren are younger and so it is perhaps to soon to comment. However, my guess would be that the situation is not that different from that in WA. Here too, the parents both work. If their is a difference, it would be our proximity to the children. WE as grandparents are able to provide some after school care and if myt wife's assessment of me is accurate, a playmate as well. The fact that the eldest is a boy who enjoys working in the garage and the garden, makes it easier for me to keep him occupied. Perhaps I should have said, "Easier for hime to keep me occupied".

I have already referred to the role of grandparents. In the WA neighbourhood that our grandchildren live in, has a sizeable Asian community that is very supportive of each other, especially within the family circle. It is not uncommon to see grandparents accompanying grandchildren. I have to say that I am also seeing more of that locally within the white community. It has always been quite prominent within the Indian and African communities. More recently the number of children being cared for by grandparents within the African community has increased markedly because of the AIDS pandemic.


I would guess it is too early to make that call. Perhaps when the granchildren are themselves in a position similar to that in which I find myself, they will be able to make the call. I do believe that my great grandparents would conclude that from amongst their own grandchildren, those that left Scotland for South Africa, did find better lives. Those that stayed, and their own children, had to live with the legacy left by two World Wars. Whether that is the case for their great grandchildren (that includes me), even that is yet to be determined.

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