Sod-Turning Ceremony for the New Mdantsane Library

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11 Aug 2009

MEC, Ms Xoliswa Tom
Head of Department, Mr B T M Mfenyana
Buffalo City Mayor
Amathole District Mayor
Eastern Cape Provincial Officials
Buffalo City Officials
Department of Arts and Culture officials
Mr John K Tsebe, National Librarian and representatives of the National Library and the SA Library for the Blind
Honoured guests, including most importantly the people of the community and the learners from the school

The Bill of Rights in our Constitution states that everyone has the right of access to information. Libraries serve as an instrument to unlock all the richness of information that is available worldwide and that serves as the means to open the minds of people, thus eradicating illiteracy and developing people to enjoy intellectual freedom.

“Research has found that many children in South Africa come from disadvantaged communities with limited access to reading materials and a culture where book reading is uncommon. These factors together predict that children will not get off to a good start in literacy development. This is a matter of concern to those children, their parents, teachers and the community in general” (quote: Dr M Ralenala, 2008). This is a concern to government as well.
It is government’s priority to transform the library and information (LIS) sector, in order to eliminate past injustices and inequities. The public and community libraries are facing a huge demand for their services, not only for recreational purposes like in the past, but increasingly for educational purposes, and to satisfy all the information needs of communities. Government therefore has to be pro-active in supplying these facilities.

The alleviation of poverty is high on the agenda of government, and access to information and education is considered a key instrument in changing this situation of poverty, in empowering people to gain essential skills, to become educated, to support themselves and their families financially, and thus eradicating poverty.

A huge financial injection into the library and information services sector was announced in 2006 when the National Treasury announced the allocation of R1 billion, via my Department, towards the transformation of public / community libraries. The National Treasury’s Community Libraries Conditional Grant, which aims at the development of the infrastructure and building book collections in our community libraries, came into effect at the beginning of April 2007

My Department has since 2006 been engaged with the broader library and information society with the purpose of transforming, expanding and upgrading community library and services. Initiatives such as the drafting of a Library and Information Services Transformation Charter, guided by the spirit and values of the Constitution and focused on national imperatives, has been undertaken. Broad consultation has already taken place and is still in process, and it is our view that we will receive full support and will be able to start with implementation in the current year.

An architectural student ideas competition was launched on 17 June 2008 with the aim of raising awareness amongst architects, librarians and role players to revitalise the design of library buildings in order to be more appropriate for communities’ needs. The winning entries will inform the design of this new library.

The need to develop sustainable library facilities in Mdantsane, Buffalo City Municipality, was raised in 2005, when it became apparent that more library facilities were desperately needed in the demographics of Mdantsane, the second largest township in the country. The only library facilities that this vast and sprawling community enjoyed up until now is a small satellite of the East London library which is not ideally placed to service the majority of the people. Indeed many young people have to take taxis into the centre of East London to study at the central city library.

My Department conducted a feasibility study in 2005, and the resulting report indicated a number of challenges facing the provision of library and information services to the community, especially to the visually impaired and print-handicapped users, who constitute a significant number of the population. It was ascertained that there is a lack of infrastructural capacity in the area where the satellite library is situated that prevents further developments; specifically the upgrading of the library building. It was therefore recommended and accepted that extending the existing library was not an option as it was not nodal and had planning constraints.

Mdantsane has been identified as a national nodal point by the previous administration and several Presidential projects have since been established, e.g. the Mdantsane Urban Renewal Programme, a unit of the Buffalo City Municipality, which is tasked with job creation projects in this area.

Since 2005 my Department has invited local authorities to come on board, and the planning and coordination of this project has become a joint venture with the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture, the Buffalo City Municipality, the South African Library for the Blind, the National Library of South Africa, other stakeholders and service providers. Resulting from the various discussions held since 2005, it was recommended that a comprehensive, full service library catering to the needs of all sections of the population, especially the disabled and the visually impaired or blind readers should be built in an area that covers a previously neglected part of Mdantsane and is on a main route in direction of the township’s future expansion.

Buffalo City Municipality was requested to make land available for this project. Part of erf 1477, Mdantsane, has been allocated for this purpose, which is suitable taking into account centrality, size, servicing and easy access. It is also adjacent to a school and within easy walking distance of two other schools. There is also a mixed population having both informal and formal homesteads in the immediate vicinity. There is also a police station next door to improve safety and security for library users, both old and young.

The integration of the needs of the sighted and visually impaired users will be a main cornerstone of the design. This facility will be the first to offer services where the needs of the visually impaired readers have been integrated with services to sighted readers. A key partner in the development of this facility will be the South African Library for the Blind (SALB) in Grahamstown. The design of the building will make provision for services to the visually impaired users. Special considerations will be taken into account, e.g. ramps for easy access. It is important that the building must be highly user-friendly and also satisfy the needs of the clients, the Department and the Province. This project will serve as a model for the development of similar facilities in the country.

It has also been recommended that satellite information centres be developed with the goal of making library services accessible to the people at the grassroots level. These initiatives will be rolled out with the assistance of the Department of Education and the South African Library for the Blind.

A collective transparent and consultative decision-making process is being followed to complete the library successfully. My Department and the Province have agreed that my Department will fund the building of the library over three years from the conditional grant for community libraries, and that the Provincial Department will manage the building of the library on behalf of my Department. The Province has since appointed the Coega Development Corporation as the implementing agency for the project.

This project is very critical to the overall goals of the Department and I wish all those involved in the execution of this project well and I am looking forward to the opening ceremony when the new library will be launched.

May the workers of Mdantsane, the architects, engineers and other specialists, put their spades in the soil where my spade goes today and may they build a wonderful amenity that will help lift our people to the highest levels they can achieve.

I thank you.