Mohlakeng's underground library keeps on growing

The Underground Library is quickly becoming a success. (MG)

The Underground Library is quickly becoming a success. (MG)

What started as a call for books by a group of young people in Mohlakeng, a township south of Randfontein in Gauteng, has led to the establishment of an interactive library.

Earlier this year, the Mail & Guardian heeded a call made by the Mohlakeng Youth Movement to help them to collect books so that residents could be encouraged to read and learn to love literature.

The plea came after the township library was burned down by a mob of protesters, who set fire to a municipal building connected to the library and a maternity ward.

A few weeks after that, Neo Mathetsa, a performance arts student at the Market Theatre, turned his one-room home into a library.

He and 11 of his friends collected books from churches and residents and used municipal bins to transport them to the Underground Library, as it was called. It was a revolutionary reading and performance arts initiative.

In his home, books come to life. Children and youths are flocking to the library cum stage to debate topical issues and to act out scenes from different books.

Overwhelmed by donations
The library and the M&G, which called for books to be donated, received an overwhelming response.
The M&G’s Johannesburg and Cape Town offices began to resemble second-hand bookstores, and were stacked with boxes and plastic bags full of novels, textbooks and biographies.

But as the books flooded to the one-room library, their management and storage became an serious problem. This attracted the attention of nongovernmental organisations and other institutions, many of which offered to train a library team.

Innovative ideas of how to develop the space and create a mobile library were also discussed with potential sponsors.

The Wellness4Life Foundation donated 1 000 books and three containers, one of which will be used as a library, another as office space and the third for storage.

The Siyafunda Trust has also offered to build a computer lab.

But for both these initiatives to be successful, land was needed. This week the mayor of Mohlakeng, Mzi Khumalo, donated a stand opposite Mathetsa’s house.

Expertise and essential services
Also to assist is librarian Thandeka Legae from the University of Johannesburg. She has offered her expertise and will help to train the Underground Library members on the day-to-day running of a library.

The Mohlakeng municipality has agreed to provide water, electricity and security, and has donated trees to be planted on the stand. A vegetable garden is also planned.

This means the residents of Mohlakeng will finally again have a place where they can read books and now learn about gardening.

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