WATCH: UCT unveils Jagger Library memorial exhibition in remembrance of 2021 fire

Published May 5, 2022


Durban - Just a little over a year ago, devastation struck at the University of Cape Town's iconic Jagger Library.

At the time, IOL reported that hundreds of years of history had gone up in smoke after a wildfire had broken out.

Initially, the fires began at the Rhodes Memorial Park but flames quickly leapt towards UCT and later to the Devil's Peak Estate. It took emergency teams hours to extinguish the blames.

The reading room of the Jagger Library was completely gutted. Thankfully a fire detection system kicked in, prevented the fire from spreading to other parts of the library, steeped in history.

Director of the UCT Libraries, Ujala Satgoor, said they were devastated by the damage.

"As some of us watched, from on site, with horror and helplessness this elegant and historical library burn, I can only imagine the shock and horror you must have felt as you watched the news reports and pictures of this destruction," Satgoor said.

This week, UCT commemorated the event by hosting a special Jagger Library memorial exhibition.

UCT Vice Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng reflected on the past 12 months and provided an update on the work that has been carried out since the devastating fire that affected campus in April 2021.

"Just 12 months ago, we were reeling from the disaster of the Table Mountain fire and the damage it caused to UCT. We remain grateful, always, that no staff member or student was harmed by the fire or the evacuation process. But that does not mean we were not affected by what we experienced," Phakeng said in her address.

"It has been a long journey of recovery for all in the UCT community, and we remain appreciative of every internal and external role player in response to and post the tragedy that befall us,“ she added.

This week the university commemorates the fire and its effect on UCT Libraries, with the formal opening of a special Jagger Library memorial exhibition.

"Of Smoke and Ash" was curated by Dr Duane Jethro and Jade Nair of the Centre for Curating the Archive, based in the Michaelis School of Fine Art. It opened to the public from Wednesday, April 20.

This exhibition is not just about what the fire did to UCT and the Jagger Library last year.

"It is also about our responses to the fire, as an institution; as librarians and curators and knowledge specialists who have the skills and responsibility to make this treasure known to the wider world and as individuals who are committed to building, learning from and cherishing African knowledge and its place in the knowledge bank of the world," Phakeng said.

She also provided an update on the repair and rebuilding work on buildings affected by the fire.

The actual rebuilding of the Jagger Library space may take a couple of years, including applying for planning permission and Heritage Western Cape authorisation.

Meanwhile, a temporary roof has been installed over the reading room to protect the heritage structure.

UCT is also assessing the destruction of Cadbol House and La Grotta and considering the future of these spaces. Most of the other buildings that were damaged by the fire were returned to full operation in May 2021.

The remaining work includes repairs to the HW Pearson Biological Sciences Building and the mapping and replanting of damaged landscape areas.