Georgina Guedes

South Africa isn’t the best place for all its children

2015-08-31 13:32

Georgina Guedes

About 57 of my closest friends have shared a post on Facebook this week announcing that South Africa is the 18th best country in the world to raise kids.

At a time when we are collectively starved for good news it is understandable that we leap upon any potentially happy tidings and share the hell out of them.

What is less understandable is that we’re willing to celebrate any kind of positive story at all without analysing it. And we’re even willing to celebrate these stories when they are at direct odds with the very same stuff we were griping about the week before.

“South Africa makes it into the top 20 countries to raise kids. US and UK don’t!” trumpeted one Facebook headline. When you click on the link, you discover the expanded headline that stipulates, “FOREIGN EXPATS’ top 20 countries to raise kids”.

Why we did so well

Yes, the survey asked over 14 000 foreign expats from around the world to rate the country that they are currently living in. In the “best place to raise a family” category, the following sections were ranked:
•    Availability of Childcare and Education (South Africa was 11th)

•    Cost of Childcare and Education (South Africa was 20th)

•    Quality of Education (SA did not feature in the Top 20)

•    Family Wellbeing (South Africa did not feature in the Top 20 and, according to the article on, was actually voted as among the worst destinations for children’s health and safety, with up to 9% reporting they were very dissatisfied in this regard.)

So, if you unpack those figures, even the expats who have loads of money are aware that our public healthcare isn’t really something to write home about. Unless they’re writing a letter complaining about how shoddy it is.

Realistically, expats are foreign professionals who are earning a lot of money – possibly even a foreign currency – and are able to reap the benefits of living in the prosperous sub-section of South African society.

We did well in the cost of childcare and education part of the survey because it’s possible to get a really good education in South Africa for fees that are affordable to foreigners. I’ve heard that a lot of people in Europe now send their kids to our boarding schools because they’re getting a quality, private education at a fraction of what it costs overseas.

But for most South Africans, even these globally “affordable” rates are well out of their range.

And it’s a little sickening that the area in which we did so well – availability of childcare – is simply as a result of the mass of people in this country who are willing to work for so little and provide loving and attentive care for our children.

For those women and their children, illness is a terror, education is a struggle, food is barely affordable and child supervision is a near-impossibility. And they’re the lucky ones.

Not the whole picture

Yes, the reasons that we did so well on this survey are that, to foreigners, so many of our elite services are easily affordable, and because our vastly unequal society makes hired help easy to come by.

This is certainly no call for bragging rights by South Africans, who are willing to endorse a survey that proudly states that this country is a better place to raise children, without adding the caveat that this only applies to an extremely privileged few.

Obviously, I am among those who are privileged. I have domestic help. I have a medical aid. My children don’t go to a private school, but I can afford one of the better government ones. And I love that we live in a pretty house with a big enough garden bathed in sun.

I choose to raise my children here for all these reasons and because this is my home, and I want to be a part of its future – a future I have not yet given up on.

But one of my greatest hopes is that this future will be more equitable for all – that education and healthcare and food won’t be so hard to come by for a large proportion of the population – which will then solve so many of the social ills that we all face. And until then, I won’t be patting myself on the back about how great expats with piles of money think South Africa is for their kids.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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