The Pioneers: Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo and the Development of Library Service to the African in South Africa
This is a longer "Pioneers" essay than we have had before. The importance of
the person and of his work appeared to call for an extended
treatment. — Ed.
South Africa is experiencing dramatic political change. Serious steps are being taken
to dismantle apartheid, which was aimed at keeping its 20 million black citizens of
African descent separated from its 4 million white citizens
of European descent. Apartheid resulted in slow development
of basic services for blacks, and for "coloureds"—those
who come from mixed black and white parentage. Nowhere
was this more true than in the field of library service.
It is interesting that a 1962 book about public libraries
did not discuss library services to non-Europeans, as
black Africans were euphemistically called.  The national library directory for 1975
did not list the staff or directors of libraries serving blacks, but this was corrected
in the 1989 edition. 
The development of public library services to Africans in South Africa is comparatively
recent. The movement was energized by one of South Africa's
foremost authors—a writer,
poet, dramatist, actor, journalist, and librarian—Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo. Son
of a prominent family and brother of the celebrated Zulu
language novelist and journalist Rolfus Reginald Raymond Dhlomo (1901-1972), Herbert Isaac
Dhlomo dedicated all of his life to literature, and to enhancing access to literature for
the African people. As the first Organiser-Librarian of the Carnegie Non-European Library
Service, Dhlomo used his creative talent to promote libraries for his fellow Africans. However,
today Dhlomo is largely forgotten as a librarian, by both whites and blacks. 
By the 1860s, missionaries from various churches around the world had settled in Southern
Africa among the major language groups which gave ethnic (or "tribal") names to
their respective peoples. The four major Bantu language groups (and peoples) are the Xhosa,
the Zulu, the Sotho (Southern Sotho) and the Tswana. The earliest missionaries arrived among
the Sotho in 1833, while the Scottish missionaries arrived in 1841, founding respectively
the Morija Training Institution and the Lovedale Institution. Both of these institutions
became famous for their printing and publishing; they produced an amazing quantity of African
vernacular literature within 30 years. In 1862 Lovedale produced the newspaper Indaba, the
first of several vernacular language newspapers in South Africa, and in 1863 Morija started
publishing Leselinyana (still going strong today).
When the Lovedale Institution was being built, provisions for a library were included—a
library for its African pupils. By 1879, Lovedale had opened a branch of that library to
serve Africans in the nearby town of Alice. In 1916, the South African Native College at
Fort Hare (today the University of Fort Hare) and the Umpumulo Institution at Durban opened
libraries for their students, with service available to other blacks. During the next decade,
very little else was done to provide Africans with library service, whether public or through
institutions. In 1920, the Natal Native Teachers' Library was founded in Pietermaritzburg,
serving all African teachers through the mails. Four years later, the Native Reference Library
of the Transkei was opened at Umtata, to provide African chiefs and officials with material
for the African Bhunga (Congress) meetings. In 1927, the library of the Inanda Seminary
was opened near Durban, mainly to provide service to its African students. In the same year,
a meeting of white librarians was called, and they decided to request a mission from the
Carnegie Corporation in New York to come to South Africa and propose a system of public
library service based on the American system. On 20 August 1928, the two experts chosen
by the Carnegie Corporation arrived, Milton J. Ferguson and S. A. Pitt. Pitt stated that "the
supply of books for natives is so meagre in relation to numbers of potential readers that
it can hardly be said to exist. There are small collections at Lovedale and Fort Hare for
students ...."  The consultants proposed a "Service of Non-Europeans and Non-European
School Children" and stated:
This part of the plan, while it seems to raise great fears in the breasts of some South
Africans [i.e. whites], need in no way complicate
the situation. Nor should its operation in even balanced justice to persons of European
and of non-European descent, give offense to either party. Through a special department,
the non-European, whether he be a child or an adult, should be given service equal in quality
to that given anyone else. There are enough persons in South Africa interested in the welfare
of these people rising toward civilization to supply highly competent heads of library
divisions to meet the special requirements of the natives.... [4, p. 24]
Ferguson proposed a special department to handle the African library service because of
white fear that a state-supported library service, based on taxes collected from all of
the people of South Africa, would result in access to white-only libraries by blacks.
The [white] South African is willing—perhaps has no other way out—for the
native to cook his food, care for his children, keep
his household in order, serve him in a personal way, carry his books to and from the library,
but he would feel that an end of his regime were at hand if this very same servant were
permitted to open those books and to read therein. They cannot, for obvious reasons, at
this stage in the development of these more primitive races, place themselves on the same
footing with the natives. The library, since few blacks are capable of making use of it,
is a symbol of the white man's superiority rather than a greatly desired privilege ruthlessly
withheld from a fact-hungry, scantily clad race. Nevertheless, so far as the native is
able to use books, they ought to be made available to him; though no sane person would
advocate the circulation of the same books to all. The black man is there, and there he
will stay. He will probably increase in culture, slowly no doubt and to what degree nobody
can as yet accurately predict. And all of this he will accomplish with or without white
intervention and assistance. [4, p. 10]
Subsequently the South African Library Conference was held in Bloemfontein, on 15-17 November
1928, to hear the recommendations of Pitt and Ferguson. There were 81 delegates and representatives
of African institutions present, but no black Africans. The Conference proposed a system
of General Library Services for Non-Europeans, with these provisions:
- The services be organized and financed as part of the
general library service of the Union (Union
of South Africa), and be free.
- Wherever desirable the central library system distribute
books for use by non-Europeans through its
- Such local centres be responsible for supplying these
books to those special agencies (e.g. schools,
churches, social centres) that undertake to provide reading facilities
- In rural areas non-European schools serve as library
centres, being supplied with boxes of books
by the local library centre of the central library system; the books
so supplied to include books in the chief
vernacular of the district.
- School inspectors be asked to assist in organizing
and supervising the rural library facilities.
- One or more field officers be appointed as soon as
possible to develop these non-European services.
[5, p. 18]
This proposal was adopted as part of the Conference recommendations for overall library
services in South Africa, and forwarded to New York, where the Carnegie Corporation on 12
December 1928 approved a grant of over £99,000 with £3,000 sterling set aside
for the African. The sum of £1,000 was appropriated for service in the Cape Province, £1,000
for the Transvaal, and £500 each for services in Natal Province and the Orange Free
State. However, the monies set aside in late 1928 were not used to set up the library service
to the Africans until February 1932; pressure from sympathetic whites was needed to force
the government to implement the Carnegie grant.
In 1932, a committee was organised to set up the Carnegie Non-European Library Service,
Transvaal, based at the Public Library in Germiston (a town in the Transvaal). Although
without African members, the committee did state the goals of encouraging municipalities
to offer library services to non-Europeans, and to encourage the reading habit among Africans.
The committee finally decided that their goals were best achieved with an African as
the Library-Organiser of the Library Service. At their meeting on 18 August 1936 they resolved
to appoint an African and set his salary at £180 per year. Duties would include visiting
the centres set up in outlying cities, instructing and supervising local volunteer helpers
and librarians (African), and occasionally lecturing about books to library patrons. The
Librarian-Organiser would also assist with the library tasks at the Germiston Public Library.
At this committee meeting, which was the first to include as a committee member the brilliant
author (later the first Ph.D. candidate of the Zulu people) Benedict Wallet Bambatha Vilakazi
(1906-1947), several goals for the Carnegie Non-European Library Service were drawn up:
(1) to encourage publishing in Bantu languages; (2) to make accessible to African adults
a number of books on useful arts, written at fifth and sixth grade levels; and (3) that
blacks who could not read at home on account of noise and poor lighting should have access
to library reading rooms. [3, p. 36]
In 1928, the Carnegie Corporation had given a grant of $10,000 to the Lovedale Press at
Lovedale Institution for printing books in African languages. The expressed demand for books
in the vernacular countered the contention by many whites that the Africans were not able
to use books. By mid-1937, a published inventory listed 18 African authors, among them Reuben
Tholakele Caluza (1895-1966), H.I.E. and his brother R.R.R. Dhlomo, John Langalibalele Dube
(1871-1948), Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu (1885-1959), James Ranisi Jolobe (1902-1976), Samuel
Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875-1945), Zakea Dolphin Mangoaele (1883-1963), Isaiah Bud-Mbelle
(Budlwana-Mabelle) (1870-1947), Thomas Mokopu Mofolo (1877-1948), Hendrick Masila Ndawo
(1883-1949), Guybon Budlwana Sinxo (1902-1962), Tiyo Burnside Soga (1866-1938), and Benedict
Wallet Bambatha Vilakazi (1906-1947).  During the late 1930s, the journal Bantu
Studies (laterAfrican Studies), published by the prestigious University of
the Witwatersrand, had reviews or comments on the following vernacular books: Uvulindlebe, by
Titus Z. Masondo; Ezekhethelo and Uqamunda, by the same author; Untingive,
Inja yakwazulu, and Umendo ka Dokotela, by C.J. Mpanza; Indlafe yase Harrisdale, and Amaqhae
omlando, by Emmanual H.A. Made (a good friend of H. I. E. Dhlomo); Ilanga lika
Ngqelebona, by G. S. Mthiya; Umpande, by R. R. R. Dhlomo; Umohlomi, by
Nehemiah S. Luthano; Ezondabu wezizwezabansundu, by Arthur Ignatius Molefe and
T.Z. Masondo; Wozuyithathe, by Reginald R. Bengani; Vukani kusile by F.
Mngoma and I. Makathini; Umlondolozi, by Alfred J. Kubone; Umbazwana, by
Bernad J. Malinga; Utholakele, byE.L.Mhongo,
and a series of Zulu language readers edited by B. W. B.Vilakazi. In Tswana there was one
book by the famous author Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1878-1932), Dintshontsho, and
a compilation of folktales, Mekgwa le melao ya batswana, gathered from the Tswana
community. Iziduko zama-Hlubi by Henry Ndawo, Umqhayi wase Ntab'ozuko by
S. E. K. Mqhayi, and a series of Xhosa readers represented the Xhosa language books from
that period. The main interest during 1938-1940 was Zulu language books, and consequently
the Xhosa and Tswana language books mentioned are only a scant few of those published during
this period. The Sotho books in fact outnumbered those in Zulu.
The time was right for the initiation of library services to the Africans, and also for
the appointment of an African to take charge. In December 1936, the following advertisement
appeared in several African newspapers and journals that were read by blacks:
The Carnegie Non-European Library (Transvaal) invites applications for the post of
Librarian-Organiser. The duties will be to organise
library depots, lecture on books, keep records, etc. The qualifications required are matriculation
plus teacher training or equivalent attainment. Candidates should indicate extent of their
knowledge of English, Afrikaans, and Bantu literature, and should state whether able to
drive and care for a motor car. The salary will be £180 per annum, subject to increments
on attainment of certificates of the South African Library Association. The appointment
will be for three years. Applications in writing should be sent no later than December
10th 1936, to the Honorary Secretary, Carnegie Non-European Library (Transvaal), P.O. Box
246, Germiston, Transvaal.[6,
The committee received 61 applications for this post, and at a meeting on
February 1937 the appointment of H. I. E. Dhlomo was confirmed, to commence the following
1 March 1937.
Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo was born in 1903 at the Siyamu Location(African settlement,
near Pietermaritzburg in the Natal Province of South Africa, the second son of the preacher
Ezra Sigadiya and Sarah (Caluza) Dhlomo. His mother was an aunt of the famed composer Reuben
T. Caluza, and the young Herbert grew up in an atmosphere of music, literature, and earning.
He entered the Adams College where he obtained his teacher's certificate, and cultivated
his taste for reading, especially Shakespeare. He would perform the plays, and was an accomplished
singer, musician—playing piano and violin—and sportsman. Herbert left Adams
College in 1924 and taught for many years in Natal, finally taking over the principalship
of the American Board Mission School in Doornfontein in 1928.
From 1937 through 1940, Dhlomo was in charge of the Carnegie Non-European Library Service
in the Transvaal. One of the reasons that he applied for the job was his poor health, which
he felt would not be taxed as much with the Librarian-Organiser's job as with his multiple
duties at the Mission Board School where he taught all levels of classes single-handedly.
He eventually left his position with the Carnegie Library Service due to a misunderstanding
with the Reverend Ray Edmund Phillips, a dispute so bitter that even after 50 years, Dhlomo's
relatives speak of the close-minded attitude of the Reverend Phillips.
After leaving the library position, Dhlomo joined his brother on the staff of the Zulu
language newspaper Ilanga lase Natal in Durban, until it merged with The Bantu
World, at which time he was sent to Johannesburg to work on the combined papers. In
1953, Dhlomo's health began to fail, and he developed a serious heart condition, and numerous
small attacks put him in the hospital frequently during the last years of his life. In 1954,
he had his first major heart attack, and on 20 October 1956 he entered the hospital in Durban,
dying on 23 October 1956 of another serious heart attack. Two months later, his father died.
During his short life, Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo had written over 14 plays, hundreds of
poems (mostly uncollected from newspapers and magazines) including his epic poem The
Valley of a Thousand Hills (1941), and numerous articles, among them "The Nature
and Variety of Tribal Drama" from Bantu Studies (volume 12, 1939).
Dhlomo's life had always been hard, not only that hardness associated with being a black
and treated as a minority in one's own country, and a black author with aspirations and
creative impulses that had no readily available outlets; but a special difficulty brought
on by Dhlomo's absolute uncompromising attitude against the apartheid policies of his government.
He was militant and outspoken in his poetry, a viewpoint that brought him much trouble and
caused him to lose jobs, including his position as Librarian-Organiser. As an example, there
are these lines from the poem titled "The Great Question": "Would you have
me as a brother / Or a revengeful beast? / Would you have us help each other, / Or have
our hates increased? / Would you have us live despairing? / Starve, kill, revolt and die?
/ Or free men co-operating; / wing helping wings to fly?" (Ilanga lase Natal, 15
January 1949, p. 16.)
Dhlomo was appointed the first Librarian-Organiser effective 1 March 1937, and it was
also decided to purchase for him a small car with the agreement that Dhlomo would repay
the Germiston Public Library its cost in monthly installments. He would also receive a mileage
allowance for the distances covered in visiting local library centres. Aside from such visits,
Dhlomo's duties as Librarian-Organiser included working with the librarians at the Germiston
Public Library, the central headquarters of the Non-European Library Services. He selected
and prepared books for issuing to African patrons, as well as packing and checking all of
the books being distributed to the local library centres. Dhlomo also had to maintain all
of his own records and deal with the applications and correspondence. It was also his task
to train the local volunteer staff of African helpers in the local libraries. At the numerous
centres, Dhlomo had to check records of membership, circulation and book holdings, to train
any helpers who could not make it to Germiston, and to address library committees. He would
also visit local schools, arrange talks for adults at the local centres, and set up other
literary functions such as debates and play readings. He was also responsible for maintaining
records of these activities, and although Dhlomo's records are not available, his successor
kept detailed records, so we have indications of the probable subjects: 'The Library—its
Place in the Community," "The Library and the School," "How to Use
Books," "The Value of Reading," "The Library—a Social Asset," and
The Librarian-Organiser was also responsible for writing articles on the activities of
the Library Service and placing them with the press and with periodicals. On 20 November
1937, the Star newspaper printed a lengthy article sent in by Dhlomo, entitled "Overwhelming
Demand for Books—Natives' Keen Interest in Library Service—Works on Africa and
Classics the Most Popular:"
A library service is being rendered to a largely illiterate and backward people. It is
helping to educate them, interest them in social and other problems and assist them to develop
intellectually and culturally. The library possesses some 5,000 books at the moment. These
are sent all over the Transvaal, into the remotest native villages and settlements.... About
60 centres are served, the books being distributed from them to the subscribers. These centres
are situated in locations, in native schools, in missionary centres and settlements. In
each centre there is a voluntary librarian and in many, especially in the locations, there
are library committees [of Africans]. To the librarians in each centre the headquarters
in Germiston sends out boxes of books containing from 50 to 300 books, depending on the
number of subscribers attached to the centre. These boxes are specially constructed to act
as shelves. The voluntary librarian in each centre distributes the books to the subscribers
and exchanges them regularly. The service is entirely free to the subscribers. There is
a deposit of 2/6, but this is often reduced when the subscriber cannot put up this sum and
sometimes it is even waived altogether. This is a library that is run as a great social
service (The Star, Johannesburg, 20 November 1937).
The same article includes statements by one of the white committee members regarding the
interest in reading that the African has shown: "It is rather pathetic to see the eagerness
with which these books are taken out and read by the native people.... They simply thirst
for the books and the knowledge they can extract from them. It is a pity that our resources
are so limited. We could easily distribute ten times the number of books we possess and
we could open up many new centres all over the province. Our big problem is to restrict
our activities within our financial resources." (Ibid.) Dhlomo then writes:
They [the Africans] seize avidly every book they can lay their hands on. They pass them
on to their friends too. It is impossible to say how many people benefit from the Non-European
Library, for books are passed so much from handto hand that it is impossible
to keep track of them from headquarters. But they are seldom lost or damaged. To the natives,
books are so prized and valued that they are well looked after, and in this respect also
the natives are model subscribers. The native schoolchildren are most careful of their borrowed
books and usually cover them in brown paper when they receive them (Ibid.).
The article continues with a discussion of Dhlomo's duties at that period. He had to tour
the province, organising the centres, and to make the work of the Library Service known
far and wide. Dhlomo also spread the word of education through reading, and studied the
reading tastes of his subscribers (as the patrons were called). At this time, the book holdings
consisted of about equal numbers of fiction and non-fiction books, with the demand for non-fiction
holding a slight edge. The greatest demand was for biography, social studies, and economics,
the most popular books of all being those dealing with Africa and its problems, and with
the aspirations and struggles of the African people, white and black. Dhlomo noted that "everything
in the native languages, which is unfortunately not very much, was eagerly sought after."
Regarding fiction, the taste of the readers was not frivolous. There was little or no
demand for modern writers, and none whatsoever for detective stories or light fiction. Africans
were reading the classics—Dickens, Fielding, and Thackeray being the favorites. The
classically trained teacher Dhlomo must have found this preference more than gratifying.
"My people feel that they have so much to learn, so much leeway to make up that
there is no time to waste on trash," stated Dhlomo. "The natives definitely
look upon the library service as a heaven-sent opportunity to educate themselves." (Ibid.).
Throughout his tenure, Dhlomo the journalist was able to enlist the active support of
many newspapers, which ran articles very favorable to his library service, notably in Umteteli
wa Bantu and in The Bantu World. He also contributed frequent articles himself
to journals such as South African Outlook, Transvaal Native Education Quarterly, Natal
Native Teachers' Journal, South African Libraries, Bantu Studies, and African
Dhlomo's busiest year was 1938.
Toward the end of 1937 he addressed the Transvaal Native Teachers' Conference on the subject
he favored most—the African library movement, and he attended the second annual Bantu
Authors' Conference held in Johannesburg. In early 1938 he and several white librarians
visited centres in remote eastern and northern sections of the Transvaal. They all found
these visits of tremendous interest, not only in delineating the difficulties that some
Africans had in obtaining books in small towns, but in discovering the determination that
these patrons possessed in wanting to read books: "Would you walk ten miles over a
range of mountains and ford two rivers to borrow a book? This is what some of the readers
attached to the Sibasa Library do." (The Reader's Companion,  No. 4, p.
Dhlomo was responsible for recruiting several lecturers for the Germiston Public Library.
One of his most prominent speakers was Benedict Wallet Bambatha Vilakazi, who had just received
his M.A. from the University of the Witwaterstrand for a thesis on "the Conception
and Development of Poetry in Zulu." Publication of an excerpt from that thesis in Bantu
Studies provoked a response from Dhlomo, published in the same journal: "The Nature
and Variety of Tribal Drama." Dhlomo took issue with some of Vilakazi's ideas on vernacular
poetry. Another important speaker was Richard Victor Selope Thema (1882-1955), well-known
journalist, author, and politician.
And in 1938, one of Dhlomo's numerous plays was performed at the Bantu Men's Social
Centre in Johannesburg, which was also the local library center. The play, Moshoeshoe, centered
on the rule of the benevolent Sotho king, Moshoeshoe; it was performed in English to a large
audience with Dhlomo acting a part. The cast were all Africans, but the audience was mixed,
with the Mayor of Johannesburg attending, along with several Committee members of the Non-European
Library Service. The play was a revelation to all who were present, and the reviews indicated
that it heralded the birth of African drama in South Africa.
Editing and publishing The Reader's Companion, the bulletin of the Carnegie Non-European
Library, Transvaal, was Dhlomo's responsibility. The purpose of this bulletin was to provide
information and guidance to some of the remoter local library centres in the rural areas
of the Transvaal. Four issues appeared, and 500 copies of each were and sent to all local
library centres, to interested persons and organisations, and to library officials. Issue
No. 1 was dated May 1938. It carried a greeting from Dhlomo's supervisor:
I welcome the publication of the Bulletin as a means of keeping the Transvaal Non-European
Libraries in touch with one another and the readers informed
of useful lists of books. The... service ... is, in my
opinion, the most important development that has ever taken place, for the progress, growth
and happiness of the Non-European races in South Africa. All education is in the end self-education
and a people without libraries and which does not read is necessarily backward and uncivilized
and poverty-stricken. (The
Reader's Companion, No.
1, p. 1).
This issue also had news from five other local library centres, and two pages of suggested
readings for Africans including books in Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, and newspapers in Zulu and
English. There were also hints to African librarians on keeping record cards, and also on
how to keep the centres active—by organising debates, arranging lectures by Vilakazi,
Selope Thema, A. Habedi and the Reverend Ray Phillips.
Issue No. 2 was dated July 1938. It included a letter from the Reverend Phillips on debating,
and also a full page of news from other centers. Dhlomo noted: "Very good news is to
hand from Pretoria. The committee responsible for arrangements at the New Native Location
has decide [sic] to provide a library reading room for the benefit of readers." (p.
2). In August, Dhlomo addressed the African library in the Stirtonville Location in Boksburg
on "The Library and Debating." This issue of The Reader's Companion also
contained a series by Dhlomo on "Introducing Some African Authors"—with
Mqhayi, Plaatje, and Mofolo the subjects for this installment.
In September 1938, issue No. 3 appeared, announcing that in the 90 centers, 5,000 books
had been read during the year 1936/7, while in 1937/8,9,500 had been read—nearly a
doubling of circulation. In this issue, Dhlomo continued his series on African authors,
dealing this time with B. W. B. Vilakazi, and an Indian writer, Sulyman Ismail. There was
also the notice of an event: "On Friday, September 23rd, 1938, at 8 p.m., the [Bantu
Men's Social Centre] will be the centre of an interesting discussion on 'Leadership.' Messrs.
R. G. Baloyi, A. T. Habedi, D. R. Twala, S. S. Tema, W. B. Ngakane, R. V. S. Thema, B. W.
Vilakazi, D. M. Denalane, have promised to speak." (p. 1).
The fourth issue of The Reader's Companion was a special Northern Transvaal Number,
dated December 1938. Dhlomo gave some pungent advice:
If you want to become a good reader, and by a good reader I mean a person who can read
without any difficulty at all, it is necessary for you to read whenever you can. Carry a
book around with you, in your pocket or under your arm; and if you have to wait for a friend,
or if you have one or two minutes to spare, read a few paragraphs from your book.... Reading
is still the only means by which you can come into touch with the great minds of the world. (The
Reader's Companion, No. 4, p. 1).
Dhlomo continued with his series on African authors, dealing with James J. R. Jolobe,
and with Dhlomo's brother R. R. R. Dhlomo. There was also more information to librarians,
and detailed book information on books available from the Library Service dealing with the
Northern Transvaal languages of Tsonga, Ronga and Shangaan. Dhlomo also reviewed a book
by the Reverend Ray Phillips, The Bantu in the City, giving no indication of his
increasing troubles with the author. On 8 November 1938, Dhlomo addressed a meeting of the
committee at the Pietersburg Location Hall.
The contents of The Reader's Companion proved to be so informative that extracts
were printed in newspapers and periodicals, the first two issues being reprinted in their
entirety in The Good Shepherd. But the pressures of his position forced Dhlomo
to discontinue publication of The Reader's Companion at the end of 1938.
In 1939, Dhlomo maintained his Librarian-Organiser activities, and on 4 October 1939 he
was responsible for setting up a symposium sponsored by the Carnegie Non-European Library,
Transvaal, on the topic of "My Programme for African Development" in Johannesburg.
Among his speakers were A. T. Habedi, P. M. Mabiletse, and the Vice-President of the African
Dramatic and Operatic Society, R. V. Selope Thema, B. W. Vilakazi, and Prof. Alfred Bitini
Xuma, author. In the same month, Dhlomo presented his second play, Ruby and Frank, a
drama with songs and comedy concerning the question of whether an African male should marry
a coloured female (the coloureds being a mixture of white and black, and a group that the
government of South Africa strived to keep separated from the other groups—whites,
Africans, Indians). This is a topic that seemed to fascinate Dhlomo, as it was used in several
of his poems from this period. Use of this taboo theme, and Dhlomo's increasingly militant
complaints about the inequities in his land may have led to his falling out with the Reverend
On 23 January 1940, Dhlomo organised a literary social in the Orlando suburb of Johannesburg,
with B. W. Vilakazi, W. B. Ngakane and Godfrey R. Kuzwayo, all authors, appearing. Later
that year, he took another trip to remote areas of his province to visit some of the rural
local library centres. The number of centres was reduced somewhat—to 81 by mid-1940—but
the circulation increased slightly, to 10,200 books. In late 1940, Dhlomo's disagreements
with the Reverend Phillips forced him to quit or to be fired, probably around December.
By January 1941, Dhlomo was replaced as Librarian-Organiser and he was working back at the Ilanga
lose Natal newspaper offices. During the remaining 15 years of his life he continued
to have an interest in libraries, but not on the same level as before. He died on 23 October
1956 in Durban, and the Ilanga lose Natal carried his obituary on the front page
and inside pages. Library service for the African did not end when Dhlomo left the Service,
but from then on it lost focus. At the end of World War II, it could be said:
All of us have been very largely forced to buy what was available, in order to have any
books at all. There was little or no opportunity
to discriminate. For this reason, it has often happened that Non-European library stocks
have been made up heavily of out-of-date books donated by sympathetic friends, books about
the war and counter-Nazi propaganda, and the escapist type of ephemera. [8, p.
However the tastes of the African patron had not changed that much from the time of H.
I. E. Dhlomo. In order of preference, the choices were African and
black American affairs, psychology, education, health,
In 1946, the government took over the Carnegie Non-European Library Service, changing
the name to the Non-European Library Service, Transvaal, and moving it to Pretoria. By the
year 1949, the Committee of the Library Service started up the training of African librarians
through the (segregated) South African Library Association. In 1956, the government formed
the Department of Bantu Education to regulate every aspect of the education of the African.
The Department took control of all public library work with Africans in South Africa, with
the result that the Library Service so proudly started by the Carnegie Corporation in the
Transvaal in 1928 was terminated in 1958.
Two years later, the State Library in Pretoria assumed the duties of the Non-European
Library Service in the Transvaal, and completed its takeover
by 1962. Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo and his successor were the sole African librarians
to be in charge of the Non-European Library Service in the Transvaal—since 1945 it
has been supervised by white librarians.
In 1964, the Bantu Library Association was formed, a national organisation for African
librarians, equivalent to the all-white South African Library Association. By 1968, Pretoria
had established seven regional offices of Bantu Library Service (Transvaal Provincial Library
Service) under its Non-European Library Service—43,500 members spread throughout
34 public libraries and 46 local library centres for Africans. There still existed a dire
shortage of books in the African languages of South Africa, but circulation in 1968 reached
300,000. In 1972, the national Association changed its name to the African Library Association
of South Africa, and in 1976 with the establishment of two independent states within the
Republic of South Africa, reserved for Africans only—Transkei and Bophuthatswana—full
library services for these states and the states projected for the future were planned.
With the slow eradication of apartheid that has begun with
the reconciliation between the government of F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela and the African
National Congress, the future may produce another Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo.
1. Theodorus Friis, The Public Library in South Africa: An Evaluative
Study (Cape Town: Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel, 1962).
2. Directory of Southern African Libraries, 1975. Pretoria: State
Library, 1976; Directory of Southern African Libraries, 1989. Pretoria: State Library,
3. Seth Paul Manaka, Non-white Library Services in the Transvaal (Pretoria:
University of South Africa, 1972).
4. S. A. Pitt and Milton J. Ferguson, Libraries in the Union of South
Africa, Rhodesia and Kenya Colony (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1929).
5. The Christian Handbook of South Africa (Lovedale: Lovedale Press,
6. Marguerite Andree Peters, The Contribution of the (Carnegie) Non-European
Library Service, Transvaal, to the Development of Library Services for Africans in South
Africa (Pretoria: State Library, 1975).
7. Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo, ed., The Reader's Companion, v.1-4 (Germiston:
Carnegie Non-European Library Service, 1938).
8. K. C. Johnson, "Non-European Libraries," in Aspects of Library Work in
South Africa (Cape Town: Balkema, 1948).
9. C. M. Vink and J. H. Frylinck, "Library Services in the Black States of the Republic
of South Africa," South African Libraries 46-2 (October 1978): 47-54.
Other Works Consulted:
Acutt, Hazel. Library Facilities for Africans. Johannesburg: South
African Institute of Race Relations, 1965.
Carnegie Non-European Library Service. First Report of the Committee. Germiston:
Carnegie Non-European Library Service, 1935.
Dhlomo, Herbert Isaac Ernest. "Overwhelming Demand for Books—Natives Keen Interest
in Library Service—Works on Africa and Classics the Most Popular," (The Star, 20
Ilanga lase Natal, 27 Oct 1956. Obituary of Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo.
Interdepartmental Committee on the Libraries of the Union of South Africa-1937. Report. Cape
Town: Cape Times Printers, 1937.
Peters, Marguerite Andree. "A Review of Present and Proposed Library Services for
Non-whites in the Republic of South Africa." South African Libraries 35-4 (April
_____. "Historical Review of Library Services for the Non-white Peoples of the Republic
of South Africa." InGive the People Light; Essays in Honour of M. M. Stirling. Pretoria:
State Library, 1972. Pp. 56-75.
Robinson, H. M. "Public Library Services for the Transvaal Bantu: Some Recollections
and Reflections." In Libraries and People; Essays Offered to R. F. M. Immelman. Cape
Town: Struik, 1971. Pp. 59-67.
Shepherd, R. H. W. Bantu Literature and Life. Lovedale: Lovedale
South African Library Association. Annual Reports, 1966-1975.
Taylor, Loree Elizabeth. South African Libraries. London: Clive Bingley,
Thomas, W.M. A History of the Germiston Public Library. Pretoria:
University of South Africa, 1979.
© 1993 R. Alain Everts
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