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Moms Around the World: Johannesburg, South Africa
Tips for planning visits with young children from a local mom in the know
Ally Cohen with her son Gabriel in South Africa.
People have lived in the region now called South Africa for more than 100,000 years. As you might imagine, things have changed a lot since people first started raising families there. Today, South Africa is home to some 48 million people, nearly 4 million of whom live in its largest city: Johannesburg.
“Jo’burg,” as it’s often called by residents, is extremely diverse with eleven officially recognized languages spoken in the city. With more than 10 million trees, it is also home to the world’s largest man-made forest. With the largest airport in all of Africa, Johannesburg is also a major crossroads for international travelers, including those seeking out the Big Five in Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest game reserve.
In 2010, Johannesburg will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup (that’s soccer to those of us stateside), a major feat considering the extremely high crime rates the city has struggled with during recent years, which were enough to drive many large businesses out to the suburbs. Fortunately, as the local economy stabilizes and continues to grow in post-apartheid Johannesburg, crime rates have been improving. In December of 2008, CCTV cameras were installed on every street corner in the Central Business District and the average police response rate to crime is now under 60 seconds. Presently, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is also advising local government on issues of urban crime reduction in preparation for the FIFA events.
For any parent raising children in a high crime area such as Johannesburg in recent years, child safety would be of particular concern. Ally Cohen, a Jo’burg resident and mom to a special needs 7-year-old son and a 10-month old baby boy, turned her concerns into a successful business called “4 A Kid,” which distributes children’s safety products nationally and internationally. She was also a finalist in the Standard Bank Mompreneur Competition for 2008. Ally was kind enough to answer my questions about raising children in South Africa and offer her tips for parents planning to visit Johannesburg with kids.
Q: Ally, where did you live before moving to Johannesburg?
Ally: I was born in Pretoria, South Africa and moved to Johannesburg when I was 18 years old. The two cities are very similar and are only about 60km away from each other, but Johannesburg is “more happening” from a social aspect and is the financial hub of South Africa.
Q: What did you do in your life before motherhood?
Ally: I used to work full time as a financial manager of a large corporation until my oldest son Gabriel was 5 years old. I then moved to part-time flexi hours with the same company so I could pursue my dream and open up my own business in children’s products. I now run my own business called 4 A Kid specializing in child safety products and baby accessories. I now have two children, Gabriel who is 7 years old and is a special-needs child and Jaden, who is 10 months old.
Q: Where are your favorite places to go with your children in Johannesburg?
Ally: We generally go to a nursery where there is a petting zoo and lots of space for the kids to play and run around. My kids love going to the shops, so weekends are spent at shopping malls. There are also a few indoor playgrounds in some of the malls for the kids to play in. My kids love playing in the garden, and their favourite place is actually playing in our garden. We don’t go to open parks as it is not safe with the high crime rate in South Africa.
Q: Has raising small children in South Africa changed very much since you were a child? How so?
Ally: I think that it is more or less the same to bring up our kids today compared to when I was a child, maybe a bit harder with the exposure that our kids have to TV and “bad things” in today’s times. Technology is certainly more advanced and my mother often comments that she wishes she had a few of the baby gadgets in her day.
Q: Are mothers allowed a “maternity leave” by the South African government or private businesses?
Ally: Moms are allowed maternity leave but in terms of the law, companies do not have to pay for maternity leave. Most companies do however pay up 75% of the monthly salary and maternity leave is generally 4 months.
Q: Would you say it’s more common for new mothers to work or to stay home?
Ally: Most moms work today, with the current economic times and high living standards but there are a lot of moms in South Africa that do not work.
Q: Is breastfeeding a common among new mothers in Johannesburg, and is it common to see mothers breastfeeding in public?
Ally: Breastfeeding is quite “open” in South Africa. All the shopping centers do however have baby changing and breast feeding rooms for the private moms.
Q: What are the car seat laws like in South Africa?
Ally: South African seat belt legislation requires that all drivers and passengers over the age of three wear seatbelts. Unfortunately a lot of parents do not adhere to this and often children are seen playing loose in the back seats of cars. However, there are no seat belt regulations for children under that age. The only provision for children under three years old is that if there is a child restraint or child safety seat in the car, they should be strapped into it.
Q: Is public transportation a good option for getting around Johannesburg, or other parts of South Africa?
Ally: Public transport is not great in South Africa. Most people drive their own cars and there are privately owned mini-bus taxis that travel the roads with passengers. There are also privately owned taxis for travelers to use. There are buses available but not in every area and are not always reliable. The government is currently building a new train system called “Gautrain” to transport people in Johannesburg to major destinations like the airport and CBD.
Q: What is the best way to get around Johannesburg with babies and young children? And are taxis practical or reasonable in your area?
Ally: By car defiantly! Public transport is not very reliable as far as I know. Taxis can be used OR car rental is probably the best way to go.
Q: Is it common to see babies and kids in restaurants around Johannesburg?
Ally: There are a lot of restaurants in Johannesburg and we often see kids & babies out. South Africans love to be outside, and also love eating. Most places are geared up to accommodate children.
Q: Where should parents look to find baby supplies like diapers—or “nappies,” baby food, and baby medicines?
Ally: South Africa has a few baby chain shops and pharmacies where parents can purchase their baby goods. They can go on www.google.co.za and type in “baby products.” I also have a few baby shops listed on my website (http://www.4akid.co.za/where-to-buy/).
Q: Good tips. Any other advice you would you give to parents visiting your corner of the world?
Ally: South Africa is geared for international tourists and is an unbelievable tourist destination because we have so many beautiful features in our country.
Thanks for sharing Johannesburg with us, Ally. And thanks to the photographers also contributing to this feature: Paul Keller and Chris Eason. This article is part of Photo Friday at DeliciousBaby.com, where you’ll find more inspiration for your family's travels. To read about more moms featured in this series, see the Moms Around the World map.
Copyright (c) 2009 - 2015 Shelly Rivoli, author of Travels with Baby. All rights reserved.
Adapted from an earlier article by Shelly Rivoli that appeared in the national edition of Examiner.com.