Academics and alumni have expressed their distress after a wildfire on the slopes of the Table Mountain destroyed the University of Cape Town’s historic Jagger library.
According to EWN, the scholars voiced their concerns, as the university staff assessed the extent of the damage on Tuesday.
“The library is the heart of a university. When you see that place in flames, it’s like you just die,” Cameroonian professor Divine Fuh, head of the university’s institute of Humanities in Africa was quoted as saying.
Another scholar, professor June Bam-Hutchison, who heads the Khoi and San unit at the university’s Centre for African Studies said: “That library really gave me a sense of affirmation, of belonging because I could find things in there that connected me to this land.”
‘It was my church’
Times Live quoted Dr Martha Evans, a senior lecturer in media studies at the university as saying: “The reading room was such a special place for me. It was my church. It was a space that somehow transcended the divisions that have afflicted the institution in recent years.”
The library housed printed and audiovisual materials on African studies; 1 300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers; and more than 85 000 books and pamphlets on African studies, including up-to-date materials and works on Africa and South Africa printed before 1925, according to the UCT website. It also contained one of the most extensive African film collections in the world, the website says.
The wildfire that broke out on Sunday, damaged or destroyed at least 11 structures.
These included two houses in the Rosebank area, six education buildings on the University of Cape Town campus, heritage buildings including the Mostert’s Mill and UCT’s Jaffer Library, and the restaurant at Rhodes Memorial.
Six firefighters sustained injuries in the line of duty and nine members of the public were taken to hospital with breathing challenges after smoke inhalation.
At least 250 firefighters battled the fire, which was also fanned by strong winds.
The South African National Parks (SANParks) on Tuesday estimated that the fire had destroyed 600 hectares of land in the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP).
SANParks fire chief, Philip Prins said although they had managed to contain the blaze, the firefighters remained on high alert, monitoring the situation, as the fire had not been extinguished.
“We have managed to contain the fire at 13:00 but it’s still too early to say. Our firefighters are still monitoring the situation and they will be monitoring it throughout the night. Anything can happen at this point. The fire is not extinguished, it’s contained.”
Courage and commitment
Meanwhile, SANParks CEO Fundisile Mketeni praised the firefighters for their collective efforts to contain the fire.
“The devastating fires across the TMNP have brought home the value of partnerships and working together as a community to manage this National park we all love. Without the collective efforts of the 125 TMNP rangers, the 170 fire and rescue workers, the South African National Defence Force, CoCT personnel, law enforcement and the many volunteers, the damage, as devastating as it was, could have been much worse,” said .
“The immediacy of the reactions of fire-fighting teams from all areas of the Western Cape, their skill, courage and commitment ensured that the fire was mostly contained by Monday afternoon,” said Mketeni.
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