THE LIT­TLEST PRO­TESTER

CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

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

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