The best things in life are free: In praise of our libraries

Nick Dall – 21 March 2023

In 1761, a German colonist by the name of Joachim von Dessin bequeathed a few thousand books, two “skulls of savages”, a collection of “native craft” and a fund for the development of a library at the Cape. It took a while, but a library was eventually established in part of the Slave Lodge at the bottom of the Company’s Garden.

Back then the literary world at the Cape was pretty limited. So much so that one wag remarked it was sad that Von Dessin could not have donated to the Colony “a collection of readers to go with his collection of books”. But little by little, and thanks to the efforts of people like Thomas Pringle, John Fairbairn, Olive Schreiner and Sol Plaatje, South Africa developed a library culture.