Underground Library: Meet the team

The underground library wants to build self-confidence in the township youth, says founder Neo Mathetsa. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

The underground library wants to build self-confidence in the township youth, says founder Neo Mathetsa. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

Chairperson and founder – Neo Mathetsa (27)

My favorite book is Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life - What on Earth Am I here for? I found this book to be revolutionary; it awakened my creative senses. After reading it, I founded the Mohlakeng underground library, which helped me connect with other underground readers and made reading a very important part of our culture and tradition in our daily lives. I am addicted to reading and books attract me very easily. I believe reading is a skill that can give anyone a chance to discover or rediscover their true selves. 

I am not just the chairperson of the Mohlakeng Youth Movement – my role is also to make reading and writing fashionable in the minds and hearts of the youth. We want to build self-confidence in the township youth and show them they can achieve greater things in life. We also want to build an ongoing relationship with other book lovers.

Communications manager and spokesperson – Lebogang Thabeng (23)

Reading for me is very important and very fundamental. The latest book I’ve read is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I love reading because it is a very powerful skill for all of us. I see the underground library helping the lives of many young children in our community. What attracted me to the movement is the love of reading and writing, and having a chance to communicate with different people and getting to know more. 

Co-ordinator – Que Matabane (31)

My favourite book is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The underground library has helped me personally in my quest of instilling a culture of reading in kids in primary schools. I am a co-ordinator at one of the local schools where I teach art and culture. 

Last year, I came across a grade six learner who could not read or write. I couldn’t sleep. I then started a programme called “Read a book a week”, where learners were encouraged to read and then submit reports to me. The programme failed because there were just not enough books at school. I then met Neo [Mathetsa] and he told me about the underground library. Since then we’ve managed to go house to house collecting books and giving them to the kids. We have managed to teach a lot of children how to read and how to interrogate what they have read.

Treasurer – Tebogo Links (25)

The book that I enjoyed reading the most was Devil’s Corner by Lisa Scottoline. It’s a good read for all ages. The movement will change peoples’ thinking in the community. They will see the fun in reading and not be afraid of engaging in books. 

We are creating a network where people of all ages can come together, read and debate the material they have read. What attracted me to the movement is bringing back fun in the form of reading and engaging with people from all levels and different societies.

Deputy chairperson – Caswell Mangaliso Mthathi (27)

My favourite book is The Perfect Spy by John le Carré. The underground library started after the Mohlakeng community burned down the library during the service delivery protests that took place a few weeks ago. 

We have since managed to collect textbooks, something most children need because of a lack of textbooks from schools. We have also collected novels, English and indigenous language books so that the children that come here and the youth can learn to appreciate the beauty and power of the written word.

Secretary – Seipati Magaqa (31)

My favourite book is The Boy with a Suitcase from the Rubbish Pit by Lazarus Miti. The movement is a very good initiative and it helps kids and people who can’t read. However, the underground library goes beyond reading. It teaches children how to project and this builds self-confidence. 

But we also teach them how to listen. What we have managed to do is bring to life the books they have read through plays and perfomances. The children have shown an interest in writing scripts and performing plays. This is what attracted me to the movement.

Public relations – Pius Xulu (33)

Reading for me is a very fundamental thing. I read a lot of books, especially those that include poetry, culture, religion and Africanism. As a child, I was interested in knowing more about our geography as Africans and the different roles each nation played in the greater Africa diaspora.

The Mohlakeng Youth Movement’s “Donate A Book” initiative really intrigued me because I didn’t imagine that the youth could come up with such a concept, especially after the community riots and service delivery protests that ended in the burning down of a library, among other things.

Project manager – Bafana Ngubeni (24)

My favourite book is The Secret of the Waterfall by Graham Craig. For me, the movement touches the lives of the children involved in it. The “Read a book a week” programme has improved their analytical skills and fundamental understanding with regards to how to read a book. Not just read books, but to read and interrogate them. 

With the underground library, we found that some of the children and the youth that came through could read but there was a lack of understanding as to what they read. Our involvement is to help them interrogate the material in front of them and instil in them confidence to debate and question the status quo. This is what the underground library is about – a sign of hope to the whole country. Our vision is to create an underground library network in all townships. 

Deputy secretary – Thabang Lesabe (27)

My concern was the lack of information in our community, especially the youth. Reading is informative and will definitely play an important role in wellbeing as it gives one a chance to become a better person. 

Reading creates opportunities. Some people take for granted the power of a book or the fact that some people have grown up without ever having held or owned a book. This is where we come in as the underground library. The underground library is a change we want to see happening in black communities – we want to inspire the people in our townships.

Deputy secretary – Koketso Ratsatsi (24)

I just love reading. One of my favourite books is If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern. The moment I heard about the underground library and what it hoped to achieve, I wanted to be part of the movement, especially as it’s all about us – the youth – and giving back to our community. 

My take is that the youth are important and we need to be nurtured and groomed. We find that young children are neglected in the townships and that most parents take little interest in their children’s education. Most are not even aware of what happens at schools; that their children cannot read and that as a result they start to build a resentment towards the schools they attend and academia. The underground library wants to change that. We want to get the youth involved in reading, and we want books to not be a novelty.

Book collecter – Ofentse Moloantoa (26)

I am currently hooked on The Boy with the Suitcase in the Rubbish Pit by Lazarus Miti. The underground library has helped me see that there is a bright future for all of us – some of us who are unfortunate and have no means to attend well-resourced schools and universities. 

The underground library is a good initiative in that it has expanded our views and has broken the boundaries on knowledge. The underground library has also helped the youth and also adults who could not read. We have given them the literature, books on grammar and books with meaning that will help shape or propel their understanding of the world and societies they live in.

Transport and logistics manager – Tshepo Pheto (27)

I am responsible for bringing in books and moving them around. What we currently do is ask the community for books and when the community complies, we need to find a way to get the books and move them around. 

We have thus far collected twelve rubbish bins, and that is how we move books from all areas of the township to the underground library. This is not sustainable, but it’s what we have to do because we need the books and we can’t tell children and the youth who are members of the library that we don’t have books. 

So far we have managed to collect more than 880 books from the Mohlakeng community. Sometimes people from Randfontein call us and tell us they have books for us but we can’t collect them because we can’t walk with twelve rubbish bins to town and back. But we do what we can and we have seen a change in the community.

The underground library will be launched on March 21, but the library will go beyond the launch date and needs your help.

Use this hashtag: #undergroundbooks to communicate with us as well as organisation on Twitter. 

For more information contact 

• Thuletho Zwane: [email protected], 011 250 7354, 081 328 5264  

• Sebabatso Mosamo: [email protected], 011 250 7492, 082 483 6216 

If you would like to donate books to the underground library please deliver them to the M&G offices at Grosvenor Corner, 195 Jan Smuts Avenue, corner of 7th Avenue, Rosebank.  An official launch of the library has been planned for March 21 at the Mohlakeng Arts Hall.



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