‘Garage library still operating’

2018-04-10 06:01
John Nicholson in the library

John Nicholson in the library

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Siyafunda, a garage library in Hillview can only accommodate a few children for now as it will be undergoing renovations.

Started by a resident, John Nicholson, the library has been operating from his house.

Nicholson, with the help of Jean Williams from Biblionef, a non- profit organisation in Pinelands, decided to move the books after their discussion with the City of Cape Town.

Williams approached the City for help after she discovered that there were no plans for the existing garage. Nicholson, with the help of Williams, wanted to put a new roof on the garage library as it was old and leaking.

The library, called Siyafunda, which is a Xhosa/Zulu word for “we are reading”, has been running for over two years. It is used mostly by children from Hillview, Capricorn and Overcome Heights, among the other areas.

Having noticed the need for a library and with nothing like that in the area, Nicholson opened up his garage for children to use. The library, which started with only 70 books, grew with the help of good Samaritans and now has thousands of books.

Williams says she advised Nicholson to remove the roof and move the books so that the library could be renovated. “This was what we were planning to do anyway. So I advised him that this way we would not have to pay for administration fees if we had to submit the plans we had. It was a better option and we decided on it. The City didn’t say we must close – they helped us understand what might happen if we continued with the plans that we had.”

The library is still open, just that it can take the number of kids as usual as they have moved into a temporary small room until the renovations are done,” she says.

To allow for renovations, about 13 000 books had to be moved to a temporary room in Nicholson’s house, with some books being kept by Biblionef.

Due to the small size of the room, only a few children can be accommodated. Nicholson says the garage has been standing for 16 years and is getting old and rusty.

“I got a donor who wanted to sponsor us to renovate the garage. We had to apply to the City to have that done and we got the most shocking news, that there was no plan for it. It came as a surprise to me because we paid someone to do it and now he is nowhere to be seen. I hear he is in the Eastern Cape.

“He left with my money and he didn’t submit anything to the City of Cape Town and he didn’t give me the plans,” he says.

Due to the fact that the first plan was not submitted, the second plan was rejected and the City advised that if he continued to use the garage it will attract a penalty.

“We have resubmitted and we don’t know how long it will take. For now we have to move into a temporary room and get most of the books stored elsewhere. This is a setback for the children. We have about 40 to 60 children here after school. This is where they feel safe and get help, and telling them that the library will be closed and we don’t know for how long was heartbreaking.

“I told them the library will not be operating as usual for a while and one boy asked me, but how long is a while? I didn’t have the answer. This lies with the City and we don’t know how long it will take.”

Now they are hoping that the small room in his house will keep things going until their plans are approved.

“I believe this is just temporary and we will be back again. The library has brought so much hope for the children and is a safe haven for them. We have come this far and my prayer is that it doesn’t take long. If the room is too small we will also make use of our church, New Apostolic in Hillview,” says Nicholson.

Mayco member (South) Eddie Andrews says to date, the City has not conducted any inspections at the property.

“Nicholson and Williams met with an official to discuss the process that needed to be followed in order to submit a building plan to regularise the unauthorised carport structure, and to replace the roof as well as obtain the land use application that is required in order to use the premises for purposes other than its intended residential use. Nicholson was informed that his current unauthorised structure will incur an administrative penalty in terms of the Municipal Planning Bylaw, 2015. He was informed that the amount would have to be determined by the Municipal Planning Tribunal (MPT) according to the relevant criteria. At no stage did any official mention an amount, as this would need to be determined by a
committee.”

Andrews says his office was contacted by Williams and she informed them that she, together with Nicholson, decided out of their own will to pack up the books in the library.

“They did so on 28 March following their meeting with the land use official. They decided to store the books while the roof, which needed to be repaired, was removed. We are pleased that Nicholson and Williams approached us for assistance to ensure that they follow due process, in line with the National Building Regulations and the Buildings Standards Act. These national regulations, as well as our Municipal Planning By-law, are in place to provide owners with the certainty that their structures are safe for occupants.

“The activity will also require a land use consent application as the property is zoned for residential purposes. Given that the users of this space are children, all of us must work together to ensure that the safety aspect of the structure is not compromised. Officials are committed to assisting Nicholson and Williams to ensure that the building is compliant.”

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