Cape Town library collections destroyed in Table Mountain fire

Reading room of historic Jagger library ‘completely gutted’

April 19, 2021
Table Mountain
Source: iStock

The reading room at the University of Cape Town’s historic Jagger library has been “completely gutted” by wildfires spreading from Table Mountain.

Thousands of students who live on the Rondebosch campus, which is located on the slopes of the mountain and near where the fires started, have been evacuated and a number of campus buildings have caught fire.

The university shared a note from Ujala Satgoor, the UCT Library executive director, which said the fires had wrought “havoc and devastation” on the reading room of the Jagger library, which has resulted in the loss of valuable collections housed in the building.

She said the room had been “completely gutted” but fire detection and shutter systems had prevented the fire from spreading throughout the rest of the library.

It is not known how much has been lost as “a full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe and we can enter”, Ms Satgoor said.

She said it was a “sad day” for the university and the loss would be felt deeply, but the institution would “weather the storm”.

In a message to staff and students on 18 April, UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said all academic activities had been suspended for at least the beginning of the week.

“For safety reasons, campus will be locked down and no one, other than emergency services, will be allowed access,” she said.

Professor Phakeng said food and emergency accommodation have been arranged for all the students who had had to be evacuated over the weekend. “We are, of course, deeply concerned about the shock and fear that may have been experienced by students and staff,” she said.

She thanked the emergency services who have worked “tirelessly to extinguish this devastating fire”. According to news reports, up to 50,000 people from the surrounding area have been evacuated, with private homes and the Mostert’s Mill windmill being damaged by the fire.

Professor Phakeng said the university was “deeply grateful to all the donors who have come forward to supply food and other essential items for our students today”.

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