History left to erode

The B.P. Leinaeng Library towards its entrance on Moshoeshoe Road in Phahameng, Bloemfontein.  Photos: Teboho Setena
The B.P. Leinaeng Library towards its entrance on Moshoeshoe Road in Phahameng, Bloemfontein. Photos: Teboho Setena

The deplorable conditions inside and surrounding the premises of the B.P. Leinaeng Library in Phahameng, Bloemfontein, attests to the collapse of the Mangaung Metro Municipality.

The library was reopened to the public after the easing of lockdown measures, but conditions leave much to be desired. Discarded bottles, cans and waste litter the property, and overgrown grass speaks of decrepitude.

A sign at the library reads: “B.P. Leinaeng Library, the first library in Mangaung township. We honour people who made it possible to have this building for our children.”

Formerly known as Alias Mmulakhoro, this library was renamed after the political activist and freedom fighter Benjamin Pule Leinaeng from Bloemfontein to recognise his role in the fight for freedom.

He was reportedly among the first ANC members to leave South Africa in 1960 to live in exile during the apartheid regime. He made a home for himself in New York City, and later gradua­ted with a master’s degree from the New York University in 1976.

Leinaeng, a qualified journalist, also furthered his studies in East Germany for a year.

He is known as one of Nelson Mandela’s 12 disciples.

In 2005 Leinaeng’s stepson, Thomas Allen Harris, shot a documentary film in Bloemfontein to honour the role he and his 11 compatriots played in achieving freedom.

As these 12 men were considered terrorists by the former South African government, they left the country to form the ANC and spread their message of freedom.

In 2019 the Martha’s Vineyard branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History commemorated 400 Years of African-American perseverance in the United States by screening Harris’ film, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela.

The 12 unsung heroes of freedom were young men when they left South Africa, unaware that it would be more than 30 years before apartheid would end and they would be allowed to return home.

When they finally did return, most people reportedly did not know who they were or how they had contributed to history.

Instead of a centre of art and literature, a hub of affordable and readily accessible know­ledge for students, researchers and booklovers alike, this library now resembles the crumbling ruins within the Mangaung Metro Municipality.

  • Qondile Khedama, spokesperson for the metro, said the park and cemetery department had started with the maintenance of libraries which were closed during lockdown.

“We request the community to play a part in cleaning the environment, as this is beneficial to everyone.

“We further call on small businesses to come on board to keep the environment around them clean and to strongly consider recycling.”

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