On patrol with pen­sioner Anna

We spent a day with Anna, who’s made it her mis­sion to make sure peo­ple get to work safely

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IBY SHANAAZ PRINCE PIC­TURES: MARTIN DE KOCK T’S pitch dark when we ar­rive at her mod­est home in Mabopane town­ship in Tsh­wane. Yet the pe­tite pen­sioner is ready for ac­tion as she emerges from her bed­room dressed in a neon or­ange and blue bomber jacket, com­bat-like black boots and a beanie cov­er­ing her grey hair. Anna Dithane has been up since 3 am. For the past 10 years this gogo has re­li­giously risen be­fore the crack of dawn to patrol the streets in her Block X neigh­bour­hood in Mabopane.

Her mis­sion? To en­sure those leav­ing for work in the early hours get to the bus sta­tions and taxi stops free from bother and un­harmed by op­por­tunis­tic crim­i­nals.

At 76, Anna is the el­dest mem­ber of Mabopane Com­mu­nity Patrol Team.

Her com­mit­ment to her com­mu­nity was cel­e­brated last month at the Mzansi View­ers’ Choice Awards where she re­ceived the 1Life Life Changer award for ex­cep­tional civic work plus R50 000 in prize money.

Anna was over­whelmed when she got the award. “I cried and said, ‘Oooh, God knows what we’re do­ing.’ It’s not just about me be­cause we’re a group.”

As if on cue, the sound of vu­vuze­las is heard in the dis­tance. The blar­ing of the plas­tic horns alerts her that the rest of the team are on their way to meet her as they start their morn­ing jour­ney, Anna ex­plains.

Wear­ing a whis­tle on a lan­yard around her neck and armed with a wooden ba­ton for pro­tec­tion, she grabs her bright yel­low vu­vuzela be­fore she dashes out into the chilly morn­ing.

“The tsot­sis may try to ap­proach us but they’re too scared,” she says as we leave her yard.

“They don’t have a chance against the loud vu­vuze­las and the whis­tles. When we blow our whis­tles we know the po­lice will give us backup.”

Luck­ily, they’ve never had to use their whis­tles or call for backup.

ANNA, a for­mer nurse, joined the Mabopane Com­mu­nity Patrol in 2007 af­ter be­com­ing a vic­tim of crime in her own home.

She was am­bushed by thugs who tried to rob her son Eu­gene’s cloth­ing shop which was run from her house. Anna fled to her bed­room but the rob­bers fol­lowed.

“One rushed to me in the bed­room and I fought with him. I told them they must get out,” she re­calls.

“He said, ‘I’ll shoot you’ and I said, ‘Shoot if you want but then you’ll see mir­a­cles.’ We con­tin­ued to ar­gue and when he told me he wanted our things I told him ‘no’ be­cause we worked hard for what we owned.”

De­spite the feisty pen­sioner’s protests, the rob­bers ran­sacked the house and made off with ev­ery­thing from her TV to her clothes, in­clud­ing food sup­plies in the fridge.

“Af­ter this hap­pened there was word of start­ing a patrol and I went for train­ing at the po­lice sta­tion.”

To­day she’s one of 200 pa­trollers cov­er­ing the greater Mabopane area. There are 11 mem­bers in the sec­tion look­ing af­ter Anna’s Block X neigh­bour­hood, but on the day we join them there are only four other pa­trollers with Anna.

The vol­un­teers don’t get paid, al­though some­times com­mu­nity mem­bers give them some­thing out of grat­i­tude.

Some mem­bers of Anna’s team have dropped out due to other com­mit­ments, but res­i­dent El­iz­a­beth Moumakoe says peo­ple are grate­ful for any form of pro­tec­tion.

El­iz­a­beth (58) works as a data cap­turer in Cen­tu­rion and leaves home at 4.45 in the morn­ing to catch the bus to get to work by 7.30am.

“One morn­ing my ADT alarm went off. I thought maybe some­thing had tripped it be­cause I didn’t no­tice any­thing strange.

“About an hour later when I was get­ting ready for work it hap­pened again,” she re­calls.

“When I got out­side I no­ticed a group of boys at my gate try­ing to get in. I ran in­side and called the po­lice. The boys left when the po­lice came and since then I’ve never walked alone.”

Walk­ing 3km to the bus stop alone ev­ery morn­ing is daunt­ing, El­iz­a­beth says.

She says res­i­dents are com­forted by the fact they can call Anna the night be­fore to be es­corted to the bus or taxi stops, know­ing the pa­trollers will be wait­ing out­side their homes in the morn­ing.

“I’m so thank­ful for the pa­trollers be­cause this place isn’t al­ways safe and they re­ally help us,” she says.

WHILE oth­ers her age might be sit­ting at home watch­ing their favourite TV shows, Anna likes to keep busy. Af­ter safely es­cort­ing all her charges on her morn­ing rounds, she takes a two-to-three hour nap be­fore go­ing to col­lect med­i­ca­tion for sickly pen­sion­ers.

“I’m in­ter­ested in help­ing peo­ple. By watch­ing soapies I’m wast­ing time be­cause there’s some­one out there who needs help,” she ex­plains. “I’m a com­mu­nity helper. I love help­ing my com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially the el­derly and chil­dren who can’t help them­selves.”

This is why her son, Eu­gene (50), de­cided to nom­i­nate his mother for the Life Changer Award. What she’s do­ing is a self­less job, he tells us when we re­turn to their house af­ter the early morn­ing patrol.

“I was ex­cited when she won. It’s val­i­da­tion, say­ing all the years you were help­ing ti re­lessly, this is the con­tri­bu­tion you’ve mad e and some­body recog­nised that,” says Eu­gene, who also won R50 000 for nom­i­nat­ing his mom.

Anna plans to in­vest some of her wind­fall and do­nate some of it to her team. The rest she’ll use to ful­fil her dream of re­turn­ing to Amer­ica to visit Eu­gene’s son, who lives there with his mom.

She’s not sure when she’ll make the trip but un­til then she has work to do – come rain or shine, early morn­ing or late night. “My grandma used to say, ‘Are you not go­ing to work if it’s rain­ing? Who’s go­ing to pay your bills?’ So even if it’s cold or it’s rain­ing, I need to be out there,” she beams.

“I’m so proud of what’s be­ing done by the com­mu­nity patrol and by Ma Anna,” says Rose Khut­soane, chair­per­son of the Mabopane Com­mu­nity Po­lice Fo­rum (CPF). “She makes us all proud. We hope that by do­ing this, crime can be elim­i­nated in Mabopane or even that crime will de­crease.”

“I’ve been chair­per­son of the CPF for more than 10 years and even I help out with the pa­trolling. We just hope that the fu­ture of Mabopane will be one of a clean area, with no crime. We also don’t get any stipend for this work and my wish is that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment will see the good work we’re do­ing in the com­mu­nity and help to pay us.”

At 76, Anna still has a lot of stamina. “I think I get help from God. I pray when I wake up in the morn­ing and when I go to sleep. I ask God to give me wis­dom to help peo­ple.”

And the pen­sioner plans to stay a pil­lar of her com­mu­nity for as long as pos­si­ble. “The day I be­come so sick I can’t be out there is the day I’m go­ing to die. I’ll do it un­til I can’t any more,” Anna says as she starts clear­ing up the kitchen.

It’s al­most time for her morn­ing nap, af­ter which she’ll dash out to do her af­ter­noon rounds. “In life some­times things hap­pen and we might fail, but don’t give up. Use those things to grow you. That’s what I’ve done, be­cause help­ing peo­ple will never take any­thing away from me,” she con­cludes.

Anna Dithane and the rest of the Mabopane Com­mu­nity Patrol Team are out on the town­ship streets at 3.30am each day.

Anna proudly holds her tro­phy. She says she’s glad her good work is be­ing recog­nised but in­sists she couldn’t do it with­out her team.

Anna’s son Eu­gene nom­i­nated her for the 1Life Life Changer Award at the Mzansi View­ers’ Choice Awards last month.

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