Unesco visits UCT to survey Cape Town fire damage

UNESCO delegation visited UCT campus to asses the fire damage. Picture Supplied

UNESCO delegation visited UCT campus to asses the fire damage. Picture Supplied

Published May 13, 2021


Cape Town - The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) said it had started working with states parties to the world heritage convention, advisory bodies and other partners, to integrate a consideration for heritage in disaster risk reduction policies and programmes, and to strengthen preparedness for disaster risks at world heritage sites.

This comes after Unesco's regional director, Professor Hurbert Gijzen, and the South African national commission for Unesco, Professor Ihron Rensburg, on Tuesday conducted a site visit to the buildings affected by the fire at UCT.

Unesco said the fire that broke out in Cape Town did not affect the world heritage site alone, but went as far as UCT where it destroyed materials in the Jagger Library.

"Special collections that constituted valuable documentary heritage were lost. Documentary heritage is of vital importance in preserving cultural identities, in linking the past and present and in shaping the future."

According to Unesco, investing in reducing disaster risks at world heritage properties to mitigate the possible impact of major hazards on the precious resources was critically important.

"Actions undertaken include the development of a strategy for reducing risks from disasters at world heritage properties, the organisation of technical workshops and the publication of resource materials, as well as the provision of international assistance mechanisms."

UNESCO delegation engaging with UCT management. Picture: Supplied

Unesco said it had piloted a survey conducted in March to assess memory institutions’ exposure to disaster risk and how to address the risks, concluding that the main disasters affecting memory institutions surveyed included floods, fires, theft, storms, earthquakes, hurricanes and armed conflict.

“The survey also found that about 42.85% of the institutions surveyed identified a lack of financial resources to be the most indirect, yet common, cause of damages, affecting their long-term plans of preserving their collections.”

UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said they appreciated the show of solidarity by Unesco, demonstrated through the visit to their campus.

Phakeng said the visit provided an opportunity for the Unesco representatives to get a sense of the impact of the recent fire.

"As we continue recovering from the impact of the fire, we appreciate that we continue walking this journey with unwavering support from so many stakeholders, including Unesco, who have committed to supporting us in any way they can," said Phakeng.

She said the visit reminded them once again that indeed they were never, and had never, been alone after they experienced one of the most devastating moments for the university community.

UCT student representative council chairperson Declan Dyer said they had noted that UCT continued to receive massive support from donors and organisations across the world.

Dyer said that outside of that, they continued to engage the university on reimagining spaces during the rebuild. "In particular, we repeat our call for the Smuts Hall residence to be renamed, as part of the rebuild process."

Cape Argus