We’re in the limelight this week, so here are a few tips to help you deal with all the attention.
Have a cup of strong coffee before you read the official UN statement on the International Day of Older Persons because it’s in UN-speak so it might put you to sleep. There’s the usual mention of raising awareness of older people and their rights on October 1st, of growing old with dignity, and then the announcement of the 2013 theme.
This year the theme “The future we want: what older persons are saying” has been chosen to draw attention to the efforts of older persons, civil society organizations, United Nations organizations and Member States to place the issue of ageing on the international development agenda.
What we’re saying about the future? One of the redeeming aspects of aging is the liberating focus on the present. We don’t know how much of the future we’ll be around for, so we don’t have to worry about it as much as we used to.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, no spring chicken himself at 69, made an interesting comment in his blurb on Older Persons Day, defining longevity as “a public health achievement, not a social or economic liability”. That’s a welcome antidote to the increasingly common view of older people as more burden than benefit.
Although worries about the burdensome impact of the world’s ageing population are certainly understandable. The number of people over 60, now 1 in 10, is set to grow to 1 in 5 by 2050. The very concept of ageing is sure to be a lot different in 2150, when a third of the planet is over 60. And as with the burgeoning birth rates that caused that Population Explosion, the developing world is expected to be affected worst.
Before you get too excited about our age cohort winning international attention, albeit for only 24 hours, please note that the UN’s World Days Of are plentiful. There are about 8 of them every month, with nearly half the days of June devoted to special causes.
Perhaps it’s Ban Ki-moon’s age mates over at the UN who decide which causes merit a day, because there’s a World Day for Radio and one for television but no World Internet Day. Judging from the tiny number of “Likes” on the Older Persons Day’s Facebook page (only 33 of the world’s 600-million over-60s had clicked thumbs-up on the eve of the big day) a lot more older persons are still watching TV and reading newspapers than going online.
South Africa is celebrating Older Persons for an entire week from 30 September – 6 October, marking not only the International Day for all of us but also Grandparents Day, which falls on the first Sunday of October each year.
The focus on Older Persons has more resonance in South Africa, given what the government statement calls the country’s “troubled past” – Rainbow Nation-speak for its apartheid history. Those “born free” after Nelson Mandela became president in 1994 are entering adulthood facing troubles ranging from unemployment to global warming, but no longer contending with legislated racial discrimination.
In the developed world those born between 1946 and 1964 grew up in post-World War 2 boom times. In South Africa black Baby Boomers took the brunt of apartheid, as President Jacob Zuma noted in launching Older Persons Week.
The majority were denied decent education. They were forcibly removed from their homes and suffered immeasurable loss but they survived… Recognizing that older persons grew up in an oppressive society where injustice was entrenched and opportunities to express their views and concerns were non-existent, Older Persons Week should be used to speak to and listen to older persons. They have a wealth of knowledge, expertise, potential and wisdom. They should therefore be able to live in dignity free from any exploitation and abuse, and with their rights upheld.
That statement by the 71-year-old president was issued by 78-year-old ruling party stalwart Mac Maharaj, one of the world’s older presidential spokespersons.
In announcing the launch of the annual Older Persons Week, Zuma blithely conflated Older Persons with Older Parties – namely his own African National Congress, which celebrated its centenary last year. No, Mister Prez, corporations are not people and older political parties are not Older Persons.
Few are shy to bask in the reflected glory of 95-year-old Madiba (the clan name by which Mandela is fondly known) and Zuma is no exception. He managed to link Older Persons Week to the upcoming unveiling of yet another statue of Madiba, a 9-metre-high tribute to be unveiled on the grounds of Zuma’s government office.
Spare a thought for Madiba and be reminded of the dignity he deserves, as a liberation hero and statesman – and one of the world’s top Older Persons.