Steps ‘a part of history’

Activists Faried Salie and Irma Titus want to preserve the steps at the old entrance of the Bonteheuwel library, and restore it as a monument.

The history of a staircase outside the old entrance of the Bonteheuwel library is of such significance, that activists are calling on the City of Cape Town to create a monument from it, instead of demolishing it.

The library is due for an upgrade, and a suggestion was made to either demolish the staircase or to make it one platform, as officials are concerned that it could be a safety risk.

Irma Titus said the steps represent the role the youth played in the 1980s, when anti-apartheid activism was at its highest.

“Freedom Square was the people’s meeting place and the staircase is central to that. I might be younger than that generation, but I can relate, because my youth activism started at the library,” Ms Titus said.

Faried Salie remembers how they met in the library during the 1980s, as part of the Bonteheuwel Interschool Congress (Bisco).

“We used to formulate our type of action here – inside the library and away from the apartheid police’s eyes. Apart from that, it was also a get-together place for the youth. These steps not only has sentimental value, but also holds great historical significance. Some of our fallen heroes, like Ashley Kriel, Anton Fransch, and Coline Williams, walked on these steps. We used to sit on it, and pretend it was casual, when we were actually strategising,” Mr Salie said.

Fifteen years ago the library underwent an upgrade, and Mr Salie was appointed the community liaison officer (CLO). Mr Salie and his team decided to preserve the staircase. There was no money allocated for the next phase, and so a decision was made to just brick up the sides of the staircase.

“The idea was to put a plaque there to indicate its historical significance, or even a painting of our fallen heroes. The youth of today heard of our involvement, and it must be preserved. The youth’s involvement catapulted the struggle into democracy. There were lots of documentaries made, but it was filmed outside of the community. There is nothing here for the youth to touch. I was 16 years old when I was first detained. We did not get a chance to be teenagers – to live or to dream,” Mr Salie said.

Ms Titus expressed her gratitude for Mr Salie’s role in preserving the staircase, adding that the City’s library services too, should take pride in the steps, as it forms part of the library’s history.

Ward 50 councillor, Angus Mckenzie said the area’s central business district (CBD) is due for an upgrade, including the library.

“I think it is important that the library is being upgraded. With the expansion, change will happen, unfortunately. I respect the significance people have with the steps, and it is important to memorialise it. However, we cannot put ourselves in a position where we upgrade the CBD, if it involves risks,” Mr Mckenzie said.

The old entrance where the steps are, has been bricked up, and there is no access to the library from there.