R26-million Lehae Library opens seven years after construction started
Article originally published on GroundUp By Chris Gilili
The R26-million Lehae Community Library, on which construction started in 2016, has opened at long last.
There are serious safety concerns however after an armed robbery just weeks before the official opening.
The guards who have been protecting the facility for many years were singled out for praise by the dignitaries at the opening.
But one guard told GroundUp they have not been paid for nine months, and whether they will continue to have paid employment remains unclear.
“It is yours as a community. Please use it wisely,” said ward 122 Councillor Sthembiso Zungu, addressing residents at the long-awaited official opening of the Lehae Community Library, south of Johannesburg, on Thursday.
Construction of the library started in 2016.
“We had to fight each other in order for it to open,” said Zungu. “I want to thank you for your perseverance.”
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GroundUp has repeatedly reported on missed deadlines and broken promises regarding the R26-million project.
The City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency blamed each other for the delays.
In June 2022, youth from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Youth Club picketed outside the library, demanding it be opened.
Bongani Tshabalala, from City Library and Information Services, said, “We are trying to encourage the use of technology to access information, so this library is different from the traditional library. Not to say, books are irrelevant. There will be three qualified librarians and library assistants.”
He said there will be seven desktop computers for research.
“There is also a lot of room for people to also plug in their own devices and connect to the WiFi. What will be really new is the introduction of a gamification programme. Most Joburg libraries don’t have that. We want kids to start engaging with technology and coding from a young age.”
The library has a children’s section which will offer storytelling and homework assistance for kids.
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Karabo Thindwa, from Lehae, said, “Now school kids will have a place to learn and this is something totally new for our community. Last year, I was doing matric and we struggled so much that we had to travel to other areas to study.”
Serious safety concerns
However, the Lehae Library has already been burgled. Mayco Member for Community Development in the City of Johannesburg, Lubabalo Magwentshu, said the library was broken into on 10 May.
Armed robbers tied up the security guards and made off with security cameras, computer monitors, microwave, kettles, the motor for the gate, and other valuable items.
Magwentshu said he hopes the library opens a new window of hope for the youth of Lehae.
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But while he was addressing the community, residents asked if the City would ensure the continued employment of the five guards who have been protecting the facility all these years.
The guards were singled out for special mention and praised by both Magwentshu and Zungu during their speeches.
“We are following the City processes of employment to ensure that happens. But while that process is unfolding, the contractor that is here now will be taking care of them until November,” Magwentshu replied.
One of the security guards told us: “We have been loyal and guarding here since 2016. In August last year, the company that we worked under had its contract terminated. The City has not brought any alternative security company. We have been working without pay for a full nine months.”
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He said they had worked in all weather conditions without pay, but support from the community and the community policing forum had kept them going.
City of Johannesburg executive director for community development Vincent Campbell said, “This library is secured with alarms, cameras and vandal proofing. But the community must protect this facility and ensure it is safe.”