The Case for Lower’s Theo Petron, a developer

2017-09-07 06:00
LowercaseLunga Adam

LowercaseLunga Adam

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When Theo Petron first moved to Lower Crossroads with his family in 1991, the area had still not been deforested and was still called “kwa Mpengezi” by the locals.

At 11-years-old, he could not have known what his future prospects were.

It’s safe to declare now that he has lived a life dedicated to community service, making him a darling to all and sundry.

His foray into politics is not surprising as his father, Jeffrey Petron, was a former councillor.

Theo declares that his father was such a staunch member of the ANC that “he would have chased me away from this house the day I joined the EFF”.

Theo was ill when we sat down for the interview on Tuesday.

That he has an expressive demneanour compensated for this sickness.

Politics is not his passion; development is his forte instead, he says.

The married father of two and former teacher at Vukani Primary School wants to leave a legacy.

He is currently the chairperson of Philippi Youth Development Council.

“I’m all about advancing the cause of young people,” he adds.

This is evident from the fact that he is the founder of Petron Education Trust, which will formally launch on 17 November, the aim of which is to help with the donation of uniforms to needy learners at local primary schools.

He also helps learners, from his pocket, with registration fees, but says his ultimate aim is to hand out full bursaries rather than help them in dribs and drabs.

He is currently working as a Customer Care official at SASSA but says he could be on the move soon. He says although it is in the social development sphere of things, the organisation is not within his ambit.

“I’m working THERE, but I’m not realy THERE. I’m a kasi person.” Perhaps he means that he is a GRASSROOTS person.

“It’s nothing solid yet,” he tells me, as far as his future plans are concerned, I assume.

His previous organisation was called Zimele Community Organisation, which was donor funded by Canadians and worked closely with a local NGO, until their relationship turned sour.

When the NGO claimed ownership of Theo’s organisation, this aspect led to an ugly parting of ways for a marriage made in Canadian heaven, he laments.

“The funders would deposit money and then this NGO would come up with stories, saying they needed to buy printers ... this and that. How could they claim the organisation as theirs when I started it on 28 February 2000?,”

“Running an organisation is not easy,” he adds.

“I wanted to run it on my own and didn’t really look into how sustainable it would be in terms of the finances. I remember applying for financial aid from the City of Cape Town. When they asked about the history of our finances, that had to be done by the NGO, so they submitted everything. But I didn’t hear from anyone for a long time, so I decided to go to the municipality to inquire about the progress of my application. The response was that they’d been funding the organisation. I was very angry about it and decided to sever ties(with them).”

This was like cutting the umbilical chord to progress, for Zimele was all about educating and empowering primary school learners.

“We’d read real life stories to them. Some wrote fairy tales. We’d then collect all those stories and publish them in the form of an anthology. We then placed the books at the libraries in their schools, for them and their peers to read. We allowed the kids to write about their lives and it was shocking to discover some of the things they wrote about, which not even the teachers knew about.”

With Zimele, he says, he wanted to push the envelope, but when the NGO pulled the plug, the network went haywire ... They didn’t want us to communicate directly with the (Canadian)funders. If that had not happened(expose them), we’d still have Zimele today.”

With his heart at the core of community development, he believes that all is still not lost. With new trust, he aims to push the boundries even further.

“For the Petron Education Trust, I’ve held talks with various stakeholders and they are interested in backing(the project).”

Theo says his ultimate target is helping about a million students with bursaries.

If his heart is in development, what business is he doing dabbling in politics, I ask.

“Everything that’s done in the community is based on politics. We are here because of politics. I was a member of the ANC Youth League. I’m an EFF member in good standing.”

Theo also laments the state of development in Philippi.

“My heart is nowhere else. I am sad when we fight over useless things like T-shirts, while young people live in poverty. We cannot depend solely on the R750 000 annual budget allocation of the ward council. Before Marikana we had about 47 000 households here, and an average of 3 people per household. You do the math.”

He believes there could be more use for facilities like the library, the clinic and the community hall.

The community hall should be a hub of activity and not the white elephant it is now.

After school, children should be assisted with homework there.

With all these setbacks in mind, one is left with the impression that Theo is like a bird with fully develeoped wings, but because of the constrains within his cage, does not have the space to flex them so he could fly high above and watch in awe the fruits of his developments below.

Such is the case for the son of Lower Crossroads and others in his immediate vicinity

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