THE LITTLEST PROTESTER
Dressed in a blue tracksuit and matching takkies, the little boy struggles to fix his grip on a rock that looks far bigger than his tiny hand. He is aiming the rock into a road already barricaded with burning tyres and strewn with other rocks – but it’s just too heavy and drops uselessly at his side.
Kieran Patel’s mother, Daylene Patel, was horrified when on Monday her four-year-old son came home from crèche and said: “Mum, I was there too, throwing stones with my friends.”
Then his photograph appeared in The Star alongside a report about the protests in Riverlea, a township west of Johannesburg.
“It was out there for the whole world to see my little boy in action, which is something I cannot be proud of as a parent. People would also assume that I am an irresponsible parent who was not looking after my children,” says Patel.
On Thursday when City Press visited the family’s home in Riverlea’s Extension 1, the 31-year-old – who shares her two-room home with her two children and her husband – reflected on how little has changed in her lifetime.
“Kieran is too young to understand many things and was probably just taken over by excitement and followed older children to the main road where the main protest action was.”
Patel joined the protests on Tuesday, when the conflict turned violent and police fired rubber bullets.
“I had to be out there for my son’s sake. I grew up in poverty here in Riverlea Extension 1 and circumstances forced most of us to drop out of school. In the absence of recreational facilities, children are only exposed to a life of crime and drugs.”
The roads have been tarred and solar-powered geysers have been affixed to residents’ homes for free.
Those are the only two changes she can think of that have happened over the past three decades.
Riverlea Extension 1 appears to be the poorest part of the township. It is situated on the southern side of the railway line that leads to Soweto and dusty golden mine dumps provide its backdrop.
Residents on the streets of Extension 1 say that compared with bigger townships like nearby Soweto – which has seen major developments like parks and housing projects – nothing has changed for them.
“We have to cross the railway to the clinic and well- equipped schools. There is no proper recreational park this side of the world and our children still have to cross the railway to the library. These are all the reasons people are up in arms,” says Patel.
She says that her neighbourhood is overcrowded and lacks proper housing, and that most residents are unemployed. Without jobs, there’s no money. And with no money, people rely on grants and “are expecting RDP