Gugulethu Library attack shocks City of Cape Town

Image for illustrative purposes only.

Image for illustrative purposes only.

Library staff were threatened with physical violence when the incident occurred on Tuesday.

The City of Cape Town has appealed to communities and neighbourhood watches to help protect key community structures, after a group of protesters stormed the Gugulethu Library and vandalised computer equipment, windows and doors.

The incident occurred on Tuesday at around lunchtime, and saw staff and patrons being threatened with physical violence.

According to the City of Cape Town, the group intended to set the building alight, as police later found some type of accelerant outside.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said: “It appears that the incident was linked to protest action in the area, and while staff and patrons were not physically hurt, they have been left traumatised by the ordeal.”

Smith appealed to neighbourhood watches and other local community policing structures to help safeguard community facilities.

“I appeal to anyone in the community who knows anything about this incident to please approach the police or the City’s enforcement agencies so that we can hold those responsible to account for their actions.”

The City said they are yet to calculate the exact cost of the damage, however, the incident comes at a time when the Library and Information Service has already submitted 110 insurance claims this financial year valued at R1 247 864. This is three times higher than the previous financial year, that had 58 claim submissions amounting to R377 394.

“Some of our libraries are under siege with thieves stealing anything of value that they can lay their hands on, from air-conditioning units to computers. There is also malicious damage to property targeting doors, windows and ceilings and, frankly, we are appalled.

“We are working very hard to modernise our libraries and stay apace with technology for the benefit of our users. Our SmartCape facilities are crucial to learners who need to conduct research for projects and assignments, but also to job seekers and entrepreneurs. To deprive people of these opportunities through cable theft or vandalism and even the theft of desktop computers is nothing short of callous,” Smith said.

Photo: ANA/Supplied by City of Cape Town

Image: City of Cape Town

The City has 104 libraries, of which 17 feature prominently on the list of insurance claims and account for 54% of all the claims submitted in the last three financial years, with the most damage occurring at the Bellville, Bishop Lavis, Eerste River, Goodwood, Hangberg and Heideveld libraries.

Smith added: “Our library staff have started engaging with the local councillors and sub-councils to highlight the seriousness of the situation during community meetings, and to secure the buy-in from these communities to take ownership of their local facilities and help track down the culprits. In many instances, people know who the criminals are but are too fearful or apathetic to do anything.

“Libraries are such important resources in the communities they serve and should be protected at all costs.”

The City said some of the measures that have been implemented to avoid the risk of theft and vandalism include “perimeter lighting, installation of burglar bars and tinted windows, alarm systems and additional beams and sensors at potential entry points like ceilings and courtyards”.

“I also call on neighbourhood watches and other local community policing structures to help us safeguard our community facilities at large. We also have an informant reward system for information that can lead to the successful apprehension and conviction of persons who target City infrastructure or the recovery of stolen items.

“We need all hands on deck if we’re going to throw the book at criminals,” said Smith.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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