I sit here alone wondering what my future holds. Wondering about my days as a grandparent when I’m 70 or so, no longer working. The picture looks like this: I will be an old lump and probably still writing articles, opinion pieces for newspapers (in those days online will have overtaken print). My wife and I will own a small farm, with cattle and some vegetables. Not for commercial purposes but to feed my immediate and extended family, and also to share with the orphanages close by and those who don’t have food.

When I reach 90, that farm and the house on it and all the property will be passed over to the “heir” — my last-born son. This is how tradition has always been. The last son will inherit his father’s wealth regardless of how successful he is and even if his sisters or brothers aren’t. The thinking, I believe, was that the daughters would be married and have assumed someone’s surname. As such they were never considered for inheritance, especially of non-movable properties.

But the “heir” always leaves space for his sisters should they not succeed in marriage and need a place to stay. That message is communicated to his wife as well to expect this eventuality.

So, in my old age, I envisage my wife and me living with our last-born son, finish and klaar! Not some old-age home.

So to prepare for that we will ensure we take all our children (even though most attention will be given to the last born), to the best schools and hope they come out successful.

So if our daughters don’t make it in their marriages and are forced to come back, they will know they have a home at their father’s farm house or compound. So if things go my way I will have all my children with me in my house until I die, whereby they will bury me. Who wouldn’t want that?


I thought about this recently when somehow my internet browser took me to an Old Mutual page. The page opened up with the pay-off line “Saving for tomorrow should not stop you living today” for one of their products. I immediately thought “ba banyaka go njela tshelete yaka ba”(these people want to swindle me of all my money). When I was growing up I heard the elders at home say bad things about the “white people’s investments”. I suspected they had bad experiences. They said insurance consultants would come running to you with a smile and that would be the last you see them. And when there’s a death you are taken from pillar to post, made to fill out lots of papers before you get the money, often weeks after the funeral.

I clicked on the link where they talk about saving for retirement. A huge bold headline shouted: “Do you believe your kids are your retirement plan?”

It gave striking statistics: 39% (of parents) believe their children should look after them when they’re old. One in three doesn’t have any retirement savings, and that 23% fall into the sandwich generation, supporting both kids and parents.

This is my folks, I thought. The thing is, in my culture we don’t think about retirement. Or at least about giving someone money to keep for you for when you can’t work anymore. We were raised to work till we die. So even if it’s not formal work, it will be in my garden.

I thought of my mother, Makoma, and wondered whether she has savings. I thought of her brothers and sisters. And all my thinking came back negative, none have savings for old age.

The only thing my mother has is a few “societies” (clubs), mostly for burial purposes. She told us she doesn’t want us to suffer in terms of her burial one day.

And I don’t know how, but this retired domestic worker ensured my education was the best. Like many of the parents that lived in the village in Limpopo, she forced me to go to school. And when she wasn’t there, which was most of the time because she worked in Johannesburg, it’s as if she told the neighbours to guard my sister and me and ensure we went to school.

She never shied away from telling us we needed to go to school so we could take our little brothers to school (translated it meant buy them everything including Christmas clothes). What she never said out loud though was “then take care of me later when I can’t”.

Now that she’s retired and back home in Limpopo she reminds me of how she gave up her off days, worked overtime in Randburg and spent pretty much the whole of 1996 (my first year at university) without buying herself anything new so that she could pay for my R17 000 university tuition at Turfloop for the year. When my mother calls and all of a sudden our conversation veers off to that I know she wants me to send her money, which I was taught from a young age is what I need to do. She talks about me building an extra room in my house so that should my little brothers’ wives not like her much and chase her out of their homes she will have a room to sleep in.

So now it’s clear, my mother has invested in me. And many parents live like my mother. Are your children your investment?

The truth is many black people traditionally don’t believe in saving for old age or retirement. We invest in our children. We put most of our investments in our children so that they can take over and take care of us when they’re older and successful.

We believe our children should take care of us, as some kind of “a return of the favour”, until we die. This is “payback” time for all the years they took care of us.

So this baton is passed from one generation to generation.

That is why we don’t believe in old-age homes. Grandparents also often help out with the grandchildren.

I save money for my children to go to the best schools so that they can get a good job, so that they can take care of me and my wife when we can’t anymore.

It seems like a good investment.


Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international...

Leave a comment