Mandela Day: libraries in containers

container-library-1-600The Mandela Day Libraries project uses re-purposed shipping containers to supply almost-instant library facilities to primary schools most in need (Images: Breadline Africa Facebook page)

A simple, practical, innovative solution to the shortage of library facilities in South African schools is to provide them – in a box.

The Mandela Day Libraries project, which uses re-purposed shipping containers to supply almost-instant library facilities to primary schools most in need, perfectly captures the spirit of the Mandela Day slogan, “Make every day a Mandela Day”.

The first Mandela Day container library was opened on 18 July 2011 at Tsakane Primary School on the East Rand in Gauteng province, and since then over 40 more have opened, covering deserving underprivileged schools in urban and rural areas countrywide and collectively touching the lives of over 30 000 pupils.

Non-governmental organisation Breadline Africa has partnered with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to drive the project, with various corporates providing financial support, sponsorship of books and employee volunteers, and various literacy organisations, book donation agencies and publishers providing books, educational equipment and materials.


The innovation lies in the simplicity of the intervention, its cost-effectiveness and its scalability. Converted shipping containers cost considerably less than brick-and-mortar structures, can be moved if under-used, and do not require planning permission. The beneficiaries include not only the children who use the libraries and so improve their literacy, comprehension and general knowledge skills, but also their teachers and, indirectly, their parents and siblings. Training is provided to the librarians designated to run the libraries – who are in many cases community volunteers – thereby bringing capacity into the school as well as the community context and creating an environment that serves the community as a whole.


“The installation of Mandela Day libraries continues to spread the Mandela Day message about people’s capacity, when working together, to bring about positive change,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation says on its website. “The libraries promote a reading culture and address the call for equal access to resources for education.”

According to Puleng Phooko, programmes manager for Breadline Africa, the project, inspired by Mandela’s own love of reading and belief in the transformative power of education, can only be successful through the joint efforts of partners willing to make positive changes in children’s lives. Breadline Africa works with other partners to ensure that the libraries are equipped with sufficient books and material. Partners that have made a significant contribution include Times Media Group, Room to Read, Biblionef, Pan Macmillan, the Bookery and the Rotary Club of South Africa.


According to Breadline Africa, individuals, companies and organisations can Play their Part by:

  • Pledging support for the Mandela Day Library Project.
  • Sponsoring a library branded with the logo of one’s company/organisation.
  • Offering equipment, books or other educational materials.
  • “Adopting” a school and raising funds among staff.
  • Asking your staff to participate in painting and furnishing a library.

For more information on the project, visit Breadline Africa or contact Jade Orgill on