IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997


Esther Sibanyoni
Senior Library Assistant,
Resources for Development,
State Library, Pretoria


Ladies and Gentlemen, Honoured Guests

I have been invited to speak to you about my work, especially the work I have done which earned me the Woman of the Year '97 award in South Africa this year. The award was sponsored by Shoprite Checkers (a supermarket group) and SABC3 (channel 3 of the South African Broadcasting Corporation). There were six categories in which people could be nominated, and I was nominated in the Arts and Culture Category. I was nominated initially by people from my community, and it was an overwhelming experience for me to win this award.

To start with, I would like to give you some idea of the area I live in and about myself, as this had an influence on my involvement in community work.

I live in Soshanguve, a township that forms part of the greater Pretoria area. According to the 1991 census the greater Pretoria district has over one million inhabitants, of which 47% are black. Of the black population 29%

live in Soshanguve. The name "Soshanguve" is taken from the first letters of the languages Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda, and illustrates the living together of people of various language groups. The main language spoken in Soshanguve is Northern Sotho, which is spoken by 40% of the inhabitants. I myself am Zulu-speaking, although I am fluent in most of the official languages of South Africa (we have eleven).

I was trained and worked as a nurse for 11 years before I became involved in libraries. I entered a library for the first time when I was 27 years old, and as my ambition is to help people, I developed a love for the spirit of librarianship: that of helping people to find information. I started working at the State Library in 1973 in the Study Section, which catered mainly for secondary and tertiary students.


When I moved to live in Soshanguve, it had no public library. The challenge that prompted me to take action, came from the community itself. Requests for books which could easily be found in the State Library made me realize that there was a need for a library in the community.

I had become a mobile library, judging by the amount of study books I brought from and returned to the State Library. The need and demand for information from books grew every day. As I could not come to a decision about what to do, I involved our local church, housewives, sportsmen, teachers, nurses, businessmen, and students to solve the problem.

A first meeting took place at the church in November 1979. Thirteen people were invited; although only seven responded. A committee of seven concerned Soshanguve residents was established comprising one shopkeeper, two social workers, two priests, a medical practitioner and a librarian. The project to establish a library in Soshanguve was on its way.

Subsequent meetings were held in my house in Soshanguve, where we educated each other on the correct approach towards a successful project. We called ourselves the Soshanguve Library Association (SOLA) and held meetings every month, mostly in the evenings. A lot of preparation had to be done.

It was a difficult and dangerous time when schools and libraries were burnt down in other townships. The state of emergency in South Africa, which was declared to control the rioting, included a ban on all meetings. When we were ready, we asked for an appointment to meet our local commissioner, whom we first met in February 1980. We apologized for the illegal meetings we held and presented the minutes of the meetings to him. The commissioner thanked us for the good spirit and promised to help us as much as he could. Unfortunately, he was transferred shortly after we met, but he had already allocated a room in a building next to the community centre to be used as a library.

SOLA approached other individuals and institutions for donations, and so acquired desks, chairs and other furniture, shelves, a catalogue, trolleys, newspaper reading stands, and reference books. Cash donations were also received.

In August 1985 the library was opened for study purposes only. The opening hours were 06:00 to 21:00 during the week and 08:00-13:00 on Saturdays. About 50 students could be accommodated.

The library was functioning under the auspices of the town council of Soshanguve. Although there were no paid staff to man it, the Committee volunteered to monitor the library's activities in the evenings after work. An attendance register was instituted, and I trained some of the students to form committees to look after various aspects of the library, e.g. cleaning, shelving, etc. They were well-disciplined and made lists of problems that occurred during the day, which they gave me in the evenings.

It was routine that I should go to the library in January every year to get it ready for use after the festive holidays. However, in January 1990, the books were scattered all over the store room and I could hardly open the door. I immediately made an appointment with the township manager to speak to him about the ten years we struggled for a library. He asked me to write a report, which I did.

The township manager seemed to be the only person who was prepared to listen to me, maybe because he was a new man - he had been appointed only three months before. Within a short space of time we started holding meetings with the old Transvaal Provincial Library Services (TPLS) authorities which advised us on how to go about things. An agreement was reached that the TPLS would provide books and a librarian to staff the library. SOLA informed the TPLS of its intention to continue working hand in hand with the librarian when he/she was appointed. The Committee felt this would make communication between the library and the community easy and fruitful. Two librarians were appointed and started work in February 1990.

When the library was petrol bombed later that year I invited the ANC leaders of Soshanguve to attend a meeting at my house. My intention was to show them the records of the library project so that they could make their followers understand that this was a self-help project and not instituted by the government. The library was burnt because the TPLS vehicle was spotted delivering books outside the library. I had to explain how the TPLS was helping us and that our community's library needs could never be fulfilled without the TPLS's assistance.

We made history when we held meetings between the Transvaal Provincial Administration, the then Department of Development Aid, the librarians and SOLA. SOLA still exists; it is not holding meetings as it did before, but does communicate every now and then when there is an urgent need. We also maintain contact with the township manager and keep him informed about our objectives, such as finding a suitable site for new library buildings.

In spite of not being librarians, SOLA members persevered, leaving their homes, loved ones and other interests to build a library for the community.

I would like to mention shortly some of the other projects in which I have been involved, namely:


The idea of the arts centre started in 1988. I had noticed that the youths of other townships loved group singing, and they needed somebody to provide guidance. With the help of like-minded people I managed to establish an association with members from eight local townships, with some white members as well. The main aim was to form one strong organisation with the aim of providing an opportunity for youths to develop themselves. The name of the association is the Pretoria Art, Music and Drama Association (PAMDA).

A lot of education was needed to make people realize that if they work together, the funds would more readily be obtained.

With the funds that were raised, workshops were organised during the school holidays for the school children. They were advertised on the local radio stations and we engaged lecturers from technical colleges for a fee. The workshops were held in the various townships.

An old theatre near the city centre that had fallen into disuse was renovated thanks to a sponsor. It is today the "Arts for All" Centre. For a minimal fee people can practice pottery, oil painting, draughtsmanship, the piano, drama and welding.


Senior citizens often hold a weakened position in our society: they are hidden in houses during the day when there is no-one to look after them and they stiffer extreme hardship to obtain their monthly pensions. Since 1989 we established 13 clubs for the aged in our area, most of them in the squatter camps. These clubs meet twice a week so that members can do some physical exercise and hand- and needlework. During the annual week of the aged churches and schools are involved to teach the community how to treat senior citizens, and on International Day of the Aged club members receive special foods, all kinds of gifts, and usually we are able to arrange special trips for them to tourist venues.


I have found that a good and healthy working environment contributes to happiness, and to learning things oneself, and I have been inspired by so many of the speakers at library conferences which I have attended over the years. I like to put things into practice and my work, the State Library of Pretoria, also provided the driving force for these projects that I have described to you. The love that I have for my library work found an expression in the projects that have been so 'rewarding to me.

In conclusion I would like to say that I am most honoured to have been invited by IFLA to present a guest lecture at this conference. I wish to thank IFLA very sincerely for sponsoring my trip to Denmark, and I assure you that I will always treasure this experience.

I thank you.


POPULATION census 1991: selected statistical region

Pretoria/Wonderboorn/Soshanguve. 1992. Pretoria: Central Statistical Service.