By Lorato Trok

February 2018

The City of Tshwane has 56 public libraries divided into 7 regions.

Region 3 has 11 libraries, which includes Saulsville Library, while Stanza Bopape Community Centre, a satellite library in Mamelodi, East of Pretoria, is one the 9 libraries in region 6. These two libraries are some of the shining examples of the hard work that librarians at public libraries put in.

Mamelodi and Saulsville are some of the most vibrant townships in the city, with diverse linguistic communities. Even though Sepedi is a widely spoken language in these townships, there are other language groups in the city, such as the Ndebeles, known for their colourful house-painting, beadwork and traditional clothing, the Batswanas, amaXhosa, VhaVenda and the others. Of course there are many other communities who call Tshwane home who come from other parts of the continent too.

In Saulsville library, as in other public libraries across the country, there is a dire shortage of staff.

Photo: Saulsville Library

With a population of 799,507 (from Census 2011) and 13 schools, Saulsville library staff is made up of
one full time librarian, one library assistant and two paid interns.

Ofentse Maaroganye, Region 3 Functional Head, laments the fact that while the city should be applauded for its impressive policy of appointing paid interns to the library, the interns leave soon after, moving to greener pastures in the private sector since they are highly qualified graduates. This creates uncertainty and libraries have to train a new pool of interns each time one leaves, losing valuable time that could be better spent on giving good
service to library users.

The library has nonetheless formed a good bond with members of its community, both the general community and the school community. The library runs a series of community activities to promote literacy. Most of the activities are targeted at school children, but some members of the community, notably retired teachers, are participating in these activities to promote mother tongue literacy.

Other initiatives include writing competitions targeted at school children in their home languages. Ofentse and librarian, Teresa Ponsolby, have seen a spike in the checkout of local language books since the mother tongue writing competition and increased interest on home language material in the library.
Countless research has proven over and over that children learn better when they learn in languages they understand.

There is a dire shortage of meaningful story books written by Africans for African children, with empowering images depicting their lives in a positive light.

Photo: Stanza Bopape Library, Mamelodi

Some young people from around Atteridgeville and Saulsville volunteer their time to read books to children every weekday after school. Stories are told in all nine official African languages since Saulsville and Atteridgeville are highly multilingual. The topic of interest in educational and social circles in the country currently is that of decolonisation – decolonisation of information, education, the arts and other areas. Young people have taken this up in unprecedented ways, creating a level of awareness currently that has never been seen before.  Young black people are taking pride in their cultural background and languages.

On weekends, a team of retired teachers run oral story-telling sessions and then continue them during school holidays at the Saulsville library. It is still a tough sell to get the parents to bring their children to the library or
for them to visit the library for other purposes other than what they perceive the library to be – a reading space.

A group of young Atteridgeville creatives – fine artists, designers, hand-crafters and the general art community under the umbrella of Capital Arts, run art programmes in and around Atteridgeville for young people who are interested in the arts, enhancing their skills and keeping them off the streets.

At the Stanza Bopape Community Centre in Mamelodi, the library buzzes with school children every weekday for their daily dose of storytelling by library volunteers. The librarian, Lucas Machipa and his team of two assistants, goes a step further by staying behind long after the library has closed to continue their story reading and story telling sessions with the children.

The community centre runs several literacy projects to promote mother tongue.

Puku will be partnering with these two libraries later in the year (2018) for its book review process and home language story creation workshops. Puku is excited about this new development and phase in its work in literacy promotion by including libraries and communities.

It is these young people who give us hope that even in the education crisis, the country is finding itself in, there is hope for the future. Young people are the future of every nation and they should be encouraged to take the mantle and run with it. We can only hope that they receive as much support in their endeavour to be proudly African by practicing their cultures and speaking their languages without fear or shame.