City of Cape Town shuts down hero’s backyard library

John Nicholson, founder of the Siyafunda library. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA

John Nicholson, founder of the Siyafunda library. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA

Published Apr 5, 2018


Cape Town - A community library in Lavender Hill started by South African hero John Nicholson has been shut down by the City of Cape Town.

For the first time in 15 years, the library - called Siyafunda, which means “we can read” in Zulu - has closed its doors.

Nicholson - who was hailed a hero for starting the library in his garage to help neighbourhood children to read - says he’s been forced to shut down because he did not have a building plan for the garage.

Nicholson and his wife Gail, of Hillview, were hoping to replace the metal sheeting on the roof, which has holes and leaks when it rains.

They were approached by a sponsor to assist with the repairs, but when they contacted the City for a new plan for their property, they were told the garage was built illegally.



A heartbroken Nicholson says the City has ordered that he now remove the garage or face a R30 000 penalty.

In the past week, Nicholson has had to pack up 12 000 books and shelving and place them in storage, which is being paid for by a donor.

The couple, who started the organisation Omegaview, made headlines in 2016 when the Daily Voice reported that they had converted their garage into a library, where children could read and do their homework.

Usually full over school holidays, Lavender Hill library is shut down over building plans. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA

The upholsterer has since received numerous awards and was also named a South African Hero by, an initiative which celebrates hard-working persons in their communities.

Nicholson says the drama started when a benefactor recently offered to replace the leaking roof.


“When we approached the City two weeks ago, they said the wall at the entrance and the roofing did not have a building plan,” he says.

“I had paid someone in 2016 to do that part but he did not submit it to the City, and he also used an alias.

“The City has advised me to avoid the R30 000 penalty, which is an estimation, by removing the structure in the next 14 days.”

During the school holidays, the library is usually busy.

Nicholson says: “This is the first time in 15 years that here is no holiday programme for the children, but I believe God is preparing us for something greater.”

The couple say they still feed the many children who visit their home seven days a week.

Eddie Andrews, Mayoral Committee Member for Area South, says Nicholson will face a penalty if the structure is not removed as there was no plan submitted prior to the construction of the garage.

“However, during the discussions with the owner, it was established that the garage roof needs to be replaced and, as a result, the structure will need to be removed almost in its entirety... The property owner has agreed to remove the entire structure, and this decision may have an impact on the need for a nominal administrative penalty application.

“Should the entire structure not be removed, and an administrative penalty application is submitted, a nominal penalty will be recommended as the structure encroaches upon the building parameters in terms of the Municipal Planning By-law.

Daily Voice

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