Complaints have surfaced over the removal of security at public libraries on the Cape Flats due to a lack of funding, with one community activist demanding that security services be reinstated. In an open letter written to Mayor Patricia De Lille, Imraahn Mukaddam from Elsies River said the decision to remove security personnel from public libraries as a cost savings measure is a “clear demonstration of the City’s skewed priorities where vulnerable communities are neglected and the interest of tourists and affluent suburbs are given preference.”
“It is an indictment upon yourself as Mayor and the ruling party in the Western Cape the DA that you would view security of the public libraries as non essential, where learners and library staff are left to fend for themselves against the ravages of gangsterism and crime,” he said.
Mukaddam’s concern was prompted by an incident on Thursday, in which an armed youth pursued another into the Elsies River Public Library. Shots were fired and a youth of about 15 years old was shot in the hip. At the time of the shooting at around 4pm. there were 60 other learners and members of the public present inside the Library. The gun jammed before more shots could be fired.
“Libraries are the only safe havens that learners and children in gang and crime infested areas have to seek refuge from their daily struggle to resist crime, drugs and gangsterism. Many working parents prefer their children to spend their afternoons at the library rather than be alone at home. Many poorer learners find the environment at the public library more conducive to studying than their domestic environment that is full of distractions,” Mukaddam explained.
But Mayoral Committee Member of community services Belinda Walker said libraries operate on low budgets and they cannot use additional spending on security.
“For years libraries have been funding security on a very limited budget as opposed to running the library for resident’s benefit. They have been finding bits of funding to increase the security budget. We were told by our auditor general we can no longer do that. This is the responsibility of the government to fund libraries. However we are looking to increase the expenditure,” said Walker.
“In high crime areas, libraries like all places where people congregate, criminals will target especially if they see soft targets. I don’t think libraries are a hotspot for crime but that there has been an upsurge of crime in certain areas. You cannot spend all your money on security for a library and not have enough money for staff to run the library,” she added.
As a safety precaution, the library entrance at Elsies River has been relocated to prevent future similar incidences of occurring.
“We have made immediate arrangements to change the entrance of the library. It’s a bit more of a walk but not like walking straight off the street,” says Walker.
Trauma counseling has been provided for the staff. The City of Cape Town said the incident is unfortunate as libraries are a haven for children.
“People tell their children to go to libraries to study, read or just sit there as it is a secure and safe space. We recognize this and try to provide for this,” said Walker.
Many working parents prefer their children to spend their afternoons at the library rather than be alone at home. Many poorer learners find the environment at the public library more conducive to studying than their domestic environment that is full of distractions.
“Going to the library means a life away from gangsterism. If you want to get out of life of gangsterism and crime, education is your passport,” said Walker.
She urged people to be aware and alert of their surroundings when there is violence occurring in public spaces. VOC (Nailah Cornelissen)