Chaos gripped the UCT student body and staff while firefighters fought to contain the blaze. Pictures: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)
Chaos gripped the UCT student body and staff while firefighters fought to contain the blaze. Pictures: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

UCT fire: KZN students share their stories

By Nathan Craig Time of article published Apr 25, 2021

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DURBAN - KWAZULU-NATAL students found themselves caught up in chaos of the fire that raged across the University of Cape Town.

Fezeka Nzama, from Margate, lives in Graca Machel Hall, a UCT residence on Lower Campus.

“When the fire broke out I was working at reception in res. Initially, I didn’t think much of the fire. It was relatively high up the mountain and having been at UCT for the past four years I had seen so many fires on the mountain.

“Eventually, more reports started making the rounds about the fire getting lower down the mountain and closer to campus. Even then I still thought it would get sorted. It was only when I could smell the smoke, and see that the sky was orange that I became concerned.

“Then, ash started falling into reception and the gravity of the situation became clear to me. Next thing we’re outside, breathing in smoke, I have one backpack of stuff with me and I don’t know where I’m going or what the plan is. I was scared, we kept moving but we didn’t know where it was and you find yourself scared about losing everything in a seconds,” she said.

Nzama was back in her residence and said things had started to normalise.

Londa Mlaba from KZN was also studying at UCT and was working on his Master’s in development studies.

“It was chaos and panic, everyone was messaging each other and marking ourselves safe. I tutor first years and they were traumatised, they couldn’t handle the pandemonium and evacuations.

“Thankfully no lives were lost but so many resources and important facilities were destroyed. I need the library for my dissertation. How do we rebuild and go from here?”

Mlaba doesn’t live on campus but said he has suffered from breathing difficulties.

“My chest has been tight and I am asthmatic but I am going for a scan next week.

“The sky was filled with smoke and I am hoping that I am not suffering from the long-term effects of smoke inhalation.”

Mlaba’s mother, Monica, said her mind raced with possibilities as she was at home and her son was in Cape Town.

“I was at work when I found out about the fire. I tried to call my son but to no avail and with this crisis, I feared the worst but thankfully he was safe,” she said.

Tarika Naidoo from Durban North was studying to become a chartered accountant at UCT and was in her apartment when the fire broke out.

“I felt overwhelmed as I was writing tests on Monday and Tuesday that were initially scheduled on campus. I was uncertain what would happen as the fire was so bad I couldn't leave my apartment, it was suffocating outside and ash filled my balcony,” she said.

Naidoo said she was terrified for her friends who lived on campus but was grateful no lives were lost.

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