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
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.