Libraries under attack

Robberies and vandalism derail e-learning programs. Over the years, libraries have evolved from bookshelves to hubs of learning and endless opportunities.

However, in Emfuleni Local Municipality, this evolution which brought e-learning programs and free Wi-Fi to the doorsteps of the youth continues to face grave challenges.

Criminals hell-bent on targeting libraries are stealing computers and all other ICT equipment, leaving librarians fearing for their lives and frustrated by the collapse of skills development programs and activities due to theft.

The latest setback occurred at the Evaton North Community Library, where robbers broke into the facility and stole all 12 computers during the early hours of Friday morning (12 April 2019).

A Wi-Fi control box, two industrial vacuum cleaners, a microwave and kettle were taken in the burglary. The robbers also made off with over 100 rolls of toilet paper and dozens of containers of air-freshener and insecticide which were in the store-room. Several doors outside and inside the facility were broken.

The robbery means over 20 young people from Evaton North receiving free computer lessons at the facility for the E-Thuthe learning program will now have to stay at home. Many other residents who made use of the library to study and connect to the free Wi-Fi at the library will also be affected.

Crime is not the only threat facing the 15 libraries of the municipality - this is according to Ben Manzi and Hein Van Der Lith, the Manager and Assistant Manager of the Library Information Services Department respectively.

The managers have had to take an unpopular decision, shut down the free Wi-Fi at all ELM libraries at 17h00 daily, in an attempt to protect libraries from hooligans whose intentions are to disrupt library services and inconvenience users who need to access these facilities.

“Libraries are centres of information and learning and we need to urgently establish library committees to help up us encourage residents and library users to take ownership of these facilities,” said Mr. Manzi.

At the Vanderbijlpark Library, ambush marketing on the walls of the building and the growing trend of ‘lean’ – a concoction of cough mixture and soft drinks taken mainly by school learners in public spaces around the facility, are two of the serious challenges faced by users and management.
Mr. Hein Van Der Lith said it was concerning that libraries were now used for irrelevant purposes.

“These should be facilities of education, accessible to students and community members,” he said.

On Friday, (12 April 2019), municipal workers and interns from the Communications, Bylaws, Environmental Management and Internal Audit Departments, rolled up their sleeves to clean the walls of the Vanderbijlpark Library and remove all illegal posters.

Later on the same day, Vanderbijlpark CPF (Community Policing Forum) in partnership with the SAPS, Department of Education, Sedibeng District Municipality and Emfuleni Local Municipality, embarked on an Anti Drug demonstration against several pharmacies in the Vanderbijlpark CBD.

Also joining the protest action and awareness campaign were codeine activist and artist, Modisana Mabale and the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB).

Several representatives from various municipal departments including By-Laws, Traffic, Library and Information Services and Monitoring and Evaluation also joined the march.

Memorandums were handed to three pharmacies in Vanderbijlpark to warn them against the uncontrolled sale of cough syrup to scholars who in turn use the substance as a recreational drug.

In recent weeks, it has become clear that the municipality’s libraries were not only Wi-Fi hotspots, but also public facilities abused by school children for their drug-related activities.

All stakeholders in this campaign against ‘lean’ will meet regularly to develop further action-based programs to combat the scourge of drugs; this includes municipal and education officials, law-enforcement agencies and parents in school governing bodies.

Emfuleni Local Municipality spokesperson, Stanley Gaba said the municipality will be working closely with all stakeholders including the Social Crime Prevention Office in the Vanderbijlpark SAPS and district and provincial education officials to raise awareness and launch campaigns against ‘lean’ and all other gateway drugs. “This is only the beginning, in the coming weeks, we are going to intensify pro-active measures to stop this social scourge,” he said.

libraries under attack
Vanderbijlpark CPF, activists and other stakeholders joined the march against to raise awareness of the growing trend known as ‘Lean’.

By Bianca Thatyana

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