Keynote Address by Minister Mthethwa at the opening of New Kwanonqaba Library in Thusong Centre, Mossel Bay

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27 Jun 2014

MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, Cultural Affairs and Sport

The Executive Mayor of Mossel Bay, Ms Alderlady Marie Ferreira

Head of Department, Cultural Affairs and Sport, Mr Brent Walters

All Councillors of Mossel Bay Municipality

The Municipal Manager, Dr Michelle Gratz

CEO of the National Library of South Africa, Prof Rocky Ralebipi-Simelela,

Distinguished Guests

Members of the Ward Committees

Director of the Library Service in Western Cape, Mrs Nomaza Dingayo

All officials present

Ladies and gentlemen

This is a big day for Mossel Bay, for the Western Cape, especially the community of KwaNonqaba.

It is an honour for me to be here with you today and to be part of the opening of the new Kwanonqaba Library in Mossel Bay.  This marks an important step in opening the doors of learning and culture to the people of this community.

Significantly, this is the first new library opening that I am attending since I have been appointed in my new portfolio as Minister of Arts and Culture. This is a historical occasion for me.  Thank you for the honour.

The word “Kwanonqaba” means “scarce and mysterious land” because of the township “hiding” between the steep hillocks of the area. It connotes deprivation, a community that for decades has not been catered, condemned to the margins of society, not taken care of. This speaks to a divisive and conflicted past. I believe we are gathered here today to change that; to build a new nation and promote social cohesion.

It was with sadness that I learned that library services were rendered in an old renovated beer hall. Much as this was innovative and revealed a spirit of self-determination and resilience among the people, this was unjustifiable. There is no society that wants the best mind to be nurtured in dreadful circumstances. We are here today to change the past, to take a step in the new direction of delivering quality services to the people. Our people deserve the best that this country has to offer.

It is with pride that we are here to launch the new state of the art library building in the Thusong Centre. This is reason to celebrate, especially as part of our 20th Anniversary of democracy and freedom.

The launch of this particular library is a continuation of a journey that started many years ago; the journey of rebuilding this nation. To date, the partnership between the spheres of government has achieved the following:

  • Delivered 64 new libraries
  • 343 upgraded libraries
  •  and about 1274 jobs have been created in this sector.

The work does not stop there. It continues into the future until we have achieved Vision 2030 as outlined in the National Development Plan. What we plan to do – and achieve - is to build 54 new libraries.

Also, we will upgrade 150 existing libraries between 2014 and 2017 as part of the community library conditional grant programme.

We will mostly build new libraries in under-serviced areas. Communities like KwaNonqaba throughout the country will be our priority. And these libraries must be in close proximity to schools. We have to be to alleviate the pressing need for information for learners, especially in disadvantaged communities. They are the ones that need the facilities most. The people who live in these communities like KwaNonqaba do not have the financial resources to buy computers and other information material. This society must be judged by what it does to improve the quality of life of the people.

As this government, through the DAC we will allocate more than R3 billion in the MTEF 2014/2015 to 2016/2017 towards the library and information sector. We are serious when we say we want to improve access to information and open the doors of learning, reading and writing. This government will be judged by what it does for the poor, the marginalized, the people who have been abandoned like the community of KwaNonqaba.

The R3-billion will be allocated to all the 9 provinces to build new libraries, to upgrade existing facilities, to stock the shelves with new books, to connect to computer technology, and to appoint more staff. We are very serious when we say we want to deliver a better quality of life for our people, especially the marginalized communities.

We are a society that has become part of the global community on the information super-highway.

This means the role of the public library in the South African society must change and adapt to the new knowledge-based world. We have made some strides in the past twenty years towards transformation. Our society experiences an ever increasing need for information in different kinds of formats and it is a challenge to supply the demand.

National government, in cooperation with provincial Departments of Arts and Culture, have started transforming the urban and rural public library infrastructure, facilities and services into more functional institutions by providing buildings with more study areas, computer and internet facilities. Also, the libraries must be venues where communities can meet and where children can play with educational toys. The public library must become a popular place where communities look for jobs on the internet, where they make photocopies, and where they register for courses that they would like to study.

Libraries are the nucleus of nation building and social cohesion and not just places for reading and researching.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

For a very long time, libraries were – even to this day - traditionally known as places filled with books where people speak, move and read quietly. I fully believe that there should be more to the services rendered by public libraries. There should be more emphasis on the role that public libraries could play with regard to the economic development of their communities.

Public libraries are ideally positioned to partner with local governments to develop local economies. Public libraries are not only placed within the reach of communities. They also should house assets and resources that assist users to get access to all kinds of information that they need to expand their educational, business, and scientific knowledge that could be applied towards the development and growth of our country.

South Africa has to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in our society. We need to grow the economy, and to create new jobs. We require active citizens who are their own leaders in communities. We want agents of social cohesion in communities that will champion their own capabilities and development in order to move closer to the prosperous country that we all long for.

It is time that  librarians support local economic development initiatives, to reach out to the communities, to expand their own knowledge of local business and local government strategic plans and to attend community events in order to establish partnerships with community organisations.

Librarians, as professionals, have much to contribute towards the research into different disciplines. For instance, business and town planning, which could contribute towards the development and growth of their communities. Libraries and a reading culture are of strategic importance to socio-economic growth and development.

We must encourage ourselves and our children to read, because through reading we become literate and South Africa, as a developing country, needs literate and well educated people. Parents need to read to their children from early childhood within the family, thus making major contributions towards creating a culture of reading and literacy.

A culture of reading will contribute towards a life-long desire to learn and develop oneself intellectually, emotionally, and culturally. Above all, reading promotes self-knowledge.

We therefore need vibrant community libraries, stocked with new, relevant books across all subjects. Libraries that will assist people to improve their skills and to prepare themselves better for their professions. Libraries are places of hope that provide the means to especially poor people to escape poverty and hopelessness. They empower the poor and marginalized through the provision of a world of information and knowledge. Information is a key component to develop an informed nation and a strong democracy.

We need volunteers to provide their Saturday mornings to community libraries reading to groups of children, discussing and ensuring that they comprehend the stories. In so doing we will build a reading nation and encouraging the young to love reading and knowledge it brings. We can certainly adopt that system here to empower our children. 

In many communities, the only free public access to computers and the internet is available at public libraries, which indicates that government’s investment in public libraries delivers a good return. The government’s rolling out of information and computer technology in public libraries in all provinces will further enable the public to have access to this important technology.

The Department has developed the South African Public Library and Information Service Bill, 2012, to provide a framework of measures to redress the inequalities in the provision of public libraries. We want to establish essential norms and standards for delivering the library service. We want to move away from using bottle stores and bee halls as libraries. We want to give a sense of belonging to the poor and marginalized. Building state of the art libraries will restore their dignity and sense of being treated as equal.

An investigation was done in 2013 to establish the cost to implement the Bill provided valuable insight with regard to future funding of the library sector in South Africa.

I trust that the Kwanonqaba Library has received copies of the reprinted literary classics in African languages that the National Library of South Africa has started reprinting since 2008. To date 68 titles in African languages have been reprinted and the books have been distributed to public and school libraries, arts centres and information centres in all nine provinces, and have been received by the public with great appreciation. Some of them might be on display here today.

It is important not to forget our compatriots who are blind and visually impaired when we are planning our library services to communities.  Blind learners are very vulnerable because there is a shortage of textbooks and learner-teacher support materials in Braille, and the same applies to a shortage of large-print material for learners with low vision.  For most of them books and magazines in Braille is still the cheapest and most reliable source of information and will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa and Mayor of Mossel Bay, Marie Ferreira officially open the R 8m Kwanonqaba LibraryThe Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) funds both the South African Library for the Blind in Grahamstown and a Braille production house called “Blind SA” in Johannesburg.  Through these two national organisations, as well as through close cooperation with the South African National Council for the Blind in Pretoria, the Department assists the visually impaired community of South Africa to gain access to information.

Your province is encouraged to partner with the South African Library for the Blind to provide services to blind people in this new library.

All of us have the responsibility to protect our libraries and to speak out against the burning of libraries during protests and unrest. If people burn down libraries, they are putting out the lights of knowledge. Thus we encourage members of the community to become Friends of the Library to help to safe-guard the library as it has helped in other communities. This voluntary community organisation can also organise informative seminars, speeches and debates at the library.

I wish to conclude by repeating the words of our former President, Nelson Mandela who said-

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – He then went on to say, “No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated”.     Thank you.