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Protesters call on City to reopen the Johannesburg City Library by June

Protesters call on City to reopen the Johannesburg City Library by June
File photo. The Johannesburg City Library on 14 February 2012 after R93-million renovations. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Bongiwe Gumede)

Students and other users lost easy access to 1.5 million books when the City closed the Johannesburg’s central library in 2021 over safety concerns. Now they’re demanding that the City reopen its doors, claiming the safety concerns are overstated.

Three years after it was closed down owing to safety concerns, mainly about fire suppression, the City of Johannesburg is facing demands that it reopen the city’s main central library. 

With the library’s closure in May 2021, visitors have had to seek out other knowledge resource centres around the city. 

On Saturday, 18 May, pupils, students, academics and civic rights organisations gathered at Beyers Naude Square in Johannesburg to demand that the City reopen the library. The gathering on Saturday follows several other similar calls since the beginning of the year. 

The group has also launched a petition calling for the reopening as the library’s continued closure was depriving citizens of their right of access to knowledge. The City of Johannesburg has been given a week to respond. 

“If the City doesn’t respond or continues to ignore this matter, we will look at ways to escalate public pressure on the City, potentially through sit-ins or other protest actions. We also call on the media to keep asking the City for answers,”  said David Fleminger, CEO of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.

“Court action is a possibility but it is definitely a last resort as the legal route is time consuming, expensive and often counterproductive. We just want the City to engage with us and get the library open,” he said.

The Johannesburg City Library holds about 1.5 million books. It also has about 120 workstations and free WiFi. 

“It’s been almost three years since the library was closed. Surely the City should have done something by now. This library ticks many boxes. It’s central and well-resourced,” student Sphelele Magubane said. 

Other organisations to have joined the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation’s call include the Johannesburg Crisis Alliance (JCA). 

Over the past three months, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation has engaged with the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), which is the implementing authority, on the issue. 

The last meeting between the foundation, the City and JDA was in March, when the foundation requested the JDA to furnish it with documentation including the fire design, minutes of stakeholders’ meetings, plans and layout designs and the name of the company which installed the fire suppression system in order to enable experts to assess the closure of the library. 

“After several requests and an on-site meeting, the JDA finally sent through some of the material our experts requested, but not all. We are still waiting for more information, mainly about the fire suppression system, before our architects and engineers can write up a formal report. 

Johannesburg City Library

Johannesburg Library on Beyers Naudè Square. People have demanded that it be reopened in 7 days as it has been closed for four years. (Photo: @ferialhaffajee / X)

“Nevertheless, the reports we have received and a physical inspection have led us to conclude that the safety risks are being overstated and the library can be partially reopened to the public with immediate effect while the repairs are ongoing,” Fleminger said. 

“This library is central and makes it easy for every student around the city to use without having to travel much. We are pleading with the City to expedite the reopening of the library by next month,” student Mpendulo Mnyandu said. 

The City of Johannesburg has maintained that the library’s continued closure was necessary because it was unsafe for workers, visitors and users. Speaking to Daily Maverick at the weekend, the city maintained its stance. 

Spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said the City was aware of the concerns raised by the public regarding the closure of the library and the protest organised by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation.

“It is important to note that to open the library to the public, all statutory compliance matters pertaining to the Emergency Management Services by-laws and the National Building Regulations must be completed and certified as such before the building can be deemed safe for occupation and use,” Modingoane said. 

It’s still unclear when this would take place. 

“The City further announced measures put in place for limited access to the library resources … members of the community who need resources as part of their research or general academic enquiries will be remotely assisted by dedicated librarians using the following email address: [email protected]. The turn-around time for reference or research queries is dependent on the nature and scope of the query, minimum 24 hours,” Modingoane said. 

“Extensive work still needs to be undertaken for the building to be compliant with safety regulations, which will be implemented through a multi-year budget allocation,” he said. 

“The City reiterates the fact that the closure was necessary to ensure the safety of both staff and library users.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • WHISTLE BLOWER says:

    Since the unholy and useless coalition, of al jamah, eff,anc, and patriotic allinace, has been running the city of joburg, they have mismanaged the city into the ground and soon, it will be beyond help. The citizens of joburg deserve way better, bit as we all have come to realize,national government is no better! While our tax monies are plundered beyond hell itself, we watch helplessly, as the the brainwashed supporters of these useless parties plunge us back to the dark ages. After May 29, we had better be prepared for even worse. Same old useless politicians, same old bullshitting, but with fresh new tax coffers to plunder.

  • For many years I worked within easy walking distance of the Johannesburg Library. I spent many happy lunch hours there, just browsing the books and absorbing the peace in the atmosphere.
    I’m 80, retired and unable to drive. I live in Edenvale.
    I hope the efforts to re-open the library are successful.

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