The Reading Room of the University of Cape Town’s Jagger Library was gutted by a fire this week. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
The Reading Room of the University of Cape Town’s Jagger Library was gutted by a fire this week. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

UKZN sympathises with UCT, learnt lessons from own blaze five years ago

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Apr 24, 2021

Share this article:

Durban - The University of KwaZulu-Natal has expressed its sympathy for the University of Cape Town (UCT) after a fire that ripped through its campus from nearby Devil’s Peak.

UCT lost its historic Jagger Reading Room, which forms part of the university’s Libraries Special Collection, and other historical buildings.

In a statement this week, UCT said: “The archival and published print collections kept within the Reading Room were consumed by the flames. These include the vast majority of the African Studies Published Print Collection (about 70 000 items), the entire African Studies Film Collection on DVD (approximately 3 500), all the UCT university calendars, some of the heavily used Government Publications documents from South Africa and across the continent, and manuscripts and archives kept in the Reading Room for processing or digitisation or awaiting transfer after being digitised.

“A significant institutional loss is the original card catalogues for the Manuscripts and Archives repositories, the history of UCT Libraries, and the Special Collections Archive Office and administrative records.”

“The damages sustained at the University of Cape Town are catastrophic,” said UKZN spokeswoman Normah Zondo.

“It is a sad day for the university and its students. Any loss of information suffered is undoubtedly a devastating blow to the UCT community, the institution and humanity.

“We will continue to reach out to our counterparts at UCT to lend support wherever we can.”

Five years ago, UKZN saw its law library go up in flames during #feesmustfall protests. Damage to it and other buildings was reported to have amounted to more than R100 million.

Zondo said the university had put in place preventative measures to try to safeguard its libraries.

“All libraries have 24-hour security patrols and are fitted with smoke detectors, fire-proof metal shelving and sprinkler systems,” she said.

“The Documentation Centre has gas equipment in place that cuts off the oxygen supply in the event of a fire. We are currently finalising a preservation plan and are in the process of digitising publications that are rare and of high value. All collections are insured.

“Unfortunately, in reality, very little can stand in the way of a raging fire. The accompanying damage caused by smoke and water further adds to the complex set of circumstances.”

“The physical infrastructure damaged during the fire at the Law Library on the Howard College Campus has been completely restored.

“The rare collections are now housed in a climate-controlled purpose-built facility. The replacement and restoration of the almost 5 000 volumes that was damaged is about 90% complete.

“The process was lengthy, challenging and expensive.”

Zondo added that UKZN had a disaster management plan in place for all of its five campuses.

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: