Are we the Gestapo?

2012-03-16 00:00

LIVING in a retirement village has its drawbacks. There are rules. There are neighbours. There are rumours. How much easier to live in a cottage in the bush with no one to bother us.

The recent article (The Witness, February 15) about Amber Valley, “Speeding fines the last straw”, is a case in point. Some people in Amber Valley are clearly unhappy. Just to get the terminology right, it is not the “body corporate” that is being described as the “Gestapo”. The body corporate means all the owners of a retirement village. The body corporate elects trustees to act on its behalf. The complaints are being directed against the trustees, of whom I am one.

Much of the article was about the speed limit. Almost all retirement villages have a speed limit on their roads. Should they? Is this not an infringement of people’s rights? In Amber Valley the developer did not build pavements. The roads are therefore also pedestrian walkways. Over 1 000 people live in Amber Valley. Many elderly people, often with their dog in tow, use the roads for walks. A 30 km/h limit seems neither unreasonable nor uncommon. Many other estates have speed fines.

Should offenders be fined? Surely no elderly people drive fast anyway? By and large that seems to be true. The article says that no residents have been tracked at high speeds. But roads are also used by contractors and visitors who are perhaps less scrupulous. The choices that trustees can make in this matter: ignore it, or install speed humps or cameras with fines. If the matter is ignored and an elderly person is knocked down, the trustees are at fault. Speed humps inconvenience everybody. Speed cameras with fines inconvenience only those who speed.

In a retirement village rumours spread. The article was obviously triggered by a rumour of fines up to R35 000. That was clearly ridiculous and reality is that the fines start at 40 km/h at a mere R250. Some of the informants behind the article are perhaps misinformed. One says she was told not to jog. Another says she was told not to feed the birds. Many go jogging every day along Amber Valley roads. But a small part of the estate is set aside as a quiet place for the wild animals. The animals are free to come and go all over the estate as they please. They are a joy and delight. But they need a quiet place to breed and raise their young, and people are asked to respect that small part of the estate, and to walk quietly there. Is that unreasonable and Gestapo-like?

Almost all Amber Valley residents feed the birds and enjoy the variety of avian visitors that come each day. There is no rule forbidding that. Perhaps the case of the person who was told not to feed hadedas was merely a neighbourly dispute. Sadly, that too is part of living in a retirement village. We get old, and crotchety, fearful and confused.

Rules are inevitable. Those who impose them are inevitably unpopular. So, who would be a trustee? It is a purely voluntary position. There are no extrinsic benefits, only the satisfaction of knowing that one is doing a service for the community. But sometimes the criticism outweighs the satisfaction. As I say, living in a retirement village has its drawbacks.

• Ron Nicolson is a retired academic and Anglican priest.

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