Library not a closed book

John Nicholson, founder of the Siyafunda library.

Two years ago a Hillview man told Southern Mail about how he was doing all he could to help instil the habit of reading and learning among children in the community.

It would take John Nicholson 10 years to set up a library, called Siyafunda, in his garage where children could read books, get guidance and have a place to do school work and projects (“Hillview home a library for children”, Southern Mail, April 20, 2016).

What started out as a soup kitchen eventually became a library as Mr Nicholson realised that there was a desperate need for a safe place for children.

However, last week it seemed all Mr Nicholson’s hard work had been in vain after news reports that the library would have to close because there were no building plans for the garage.

In response to the reports, the City’s Mayoral committee member or area south, Eddie Andrews, said the City’s Development Management Department did not give an instruction, nor serve a notice Mr Nicholson, to shut down the library that he has been operating from the garage.

Mr Andrews said: “Officials from the City’s Development Management Department investigated this claim since it was brought to our attention by the Daily Voice on Wednesday April 4. We indicated in a written response that the allegation of an administrative penalty was not determined. Thus, the allegation of a
R30 000 ‘penalty’ being imposed by the City is not true.”

Mr Andrews said the City had not conducted any inspections at the property and on March 27, the executive director of Biblionef, Jean Williams, contacted the Cape Flats district planning office asking to set up an appointment for assistance as there were no building plans for the carport structure owned by Mr Nicholson.

“Biblionef received a donation from a Belgian donor to repair of the roof, but Ms Williams wanted to ensure that the property was compliant before the donation could be used,” said Mr Andrews.

On March 28, Mr Nicholson and Ms Williams met with an official to discuss the process that needed to be followed in order to submit a building plan to regularise the 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.

Mr Andrews said Mr Nicholson was informed that his current unauthorised structure would incur an administrative penalty in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law, 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 men-
tion an amount, as this would need to be determined by a com-
mittee.

“During the meeting, Mr Nicholson indicated that the roof was in bad condition. This was of major concern. Mr Nicolson was advised to submit a building plan for the structure.

“By the end of the meeting, Mr Nicholson and Ms Williams agreed to ensure that due process is followed in order to ensure that the structure would be compliant.”

Mr Andrews said: “My office contacted Ms Williams. She informed us that she, together with Mr Nicholson, decided out of their own will to pack up the books in the library. They did so on 28 March 2018 following their meeting with the land use official. They decided to store the books while the roof, which needed to be repaired, was removed.

Ms Williams indicated that the roof will be removed. For this reason, as of Monday April 9, arrangements have been made to accommodate the children, who are part of the library initiative, at a nearby church. There they will have access to two trunks of books. The remaining books are currently being stored at Bibilonef.”

* Southern Mail tried to contact Mr Nicholson, but he could not be reached by the time of going to
print.