UCT students return to campus after devastating fires

UCT students have started returning to campus after fires that destroyed buildings earlier this week.
UCT students have started returning to campus after fires that destroyed buildings earlier this week.
Image: University of Cape Town

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has slowly started welcoming students back to campus, after the recent fires which affected the institution and surrounding areas.  

The university's Jagger Library was gutted by a raging fire in the city on Sunday morning. 

The library housed a priceless African Studies collection, which included more than 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers.

The collection of books and pamphlets on African studies alone exceeded 85,000 items.

Hundreds of students were evacuated from campus residences and emergency services were called in to try to contain the fire and treat those who were injured.

On Thursday, UCT said students who reside in Smuts Hall and Fuller Hall began collecting their belongings before their move to temporary accommodation sites organised by the university.

Residence staff were back at work and ready to welcome students with meals. 

“The return to campus follows a massive collaborative effort to relocate students who were evacuated from campus on Sunday. Staff members, the students’ representative council, fellow students, and hotels across the city worked together to ensure displaced students were accommodated,” said the university. 

UCT said the return to campus would continue, and it remains vigilant about the ongoing threat of Covid-19. 

On Monday, the executive director of the UCT library, Ujala Satgoor, said a full assessment of the library would be done once the building was declared safe.

“Some of our valuable collections have been lost. However, a full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe and we can enter the building. An official statement is forthcoming and until such time, I request individuals refrain from speculation and conjecture,” said Satgoor.

UCT's vice-chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, said affected students and those who were feeling overwhelmed would be offered counselling at emergency student accommodation sites. 

“UCT will, of course, rebuild our facilities. We cannot replace the treasures of scholarship we have lost, but we can create new treasures out of our own scholarship. In the same way, each of us can rebuild our own sense of purpose out of this tragedy,” said Phakeng.

“To do so, we need to help each other. This is a team effort, and I convey my sincere gratitude for the commitment and help that you are all giving in the interest of UCT.

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