COLOURFULLY illustrated pages from children's books litter the yard of the Siyathemba Library.
The torn pages that once explained the mysterious wonders of the world to young children such as Kungani isibhakabhaka sikude kangaka(why is the sky so high) are all that remain of the contents of the building that once stood steadfastly on Nhlapo Street.
Literary material accumulated in its 20-year history was reduced to ashes when residents of Siyathemba township in Balfour, Mpumalanga, set the building alight last week.
Soot covers the walls and the smell of smoke lingers in the air. Wires dangle like entrails from the ceiling and broken pieces ofmaterials cover the floors. Recent rains have turned the ashes from the burnt books into a soggy pulp.
Protests by residents dissatisfied with the pace of service delivery have plagued the township since last year.
Last week they unleashed their anger and set buildings such as the library and municipal offices alight.
They demanded the immediate resignation of mayor Lefty Tsotetsi and the suspension of operations at the local wing of Canadian mining giant Great Basin Gold. The residents charged the company was sidelining locals when hiring staff.
Though the protests have temporarily been halted, police patrol the streets. Rocks, concrete slabs and burnt tyres litter thetownship's potholed streets.
The riots have disrupted schooling. Children loiter the streets in school uniforms at midday.
Those who claim to have been told to "stay away until Monday" (February 22) congregate in groups outside the burnt library.
"Our teachers told us to go home when we went to school onMonday," a group of teenage boys say in unison.
"It is sad that our children are turned away from school gates and their facilities are burnt," resident Phumi Mthethwa says.
Mthethwa blames "school dropouts and hooligans" for the destruction of property that has marked the residents' protests.
She says unemployment in the community is rife and compounded by the youth's inadequate qualifications and lack of skills.
Mthethwa says the community is also frustrated by a lack of houses and bad roads.
Librarian Modiehi Mabote says the burning of the library has been "painful" for her.
"It was a useful tool for the children in the neighbourhood. They would flock to the library after school for help with their homework and assignments. "
She says its destruction has dealt a heavy blow to those writing Grade 12 supplementary examinations because they can no longer use their schools' textbooks.
Grade 12 pupil Sipho Motaung says though the library was not "well equipped" it provided pupils a place to meet and study.