Homeless people must not be made scapegoats of the Cape fires
Sunday’s fire along the slopes of Table Mountain reminded us once again that nature can be beautiful, yet devastating when its power is unleashed.
What started as a small fire, next to Rhodes Memorial on Sunday morning, soon became a raging inferno, fanned by strong south-easterly winds, razing all that stood in its path.
Most of us woke up to the shock, and social media images and video of the destruction of the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Room. Despite the efforts of firefighters, the fire snaked down to parts of the University of Cape Town’s Upper Campus, forcing hundreds of students who lived in residences on campus to be evacuated.
But instead of the residences, the fire razed Jagger Library which served as the reading room for the African Studies Library, which perhaps contained the largest collection of historical African literature on southern Africa’s languages. While that precious store of memories and languages has now been reduced to ash, UCT will no doubt rebuild and restore the buildings lost in the fire.
The fire changed course late on Monday evening, heading towards Devil’s Peak forcing residents in parts of Walmer Estate and Vredehoek to evacuate their homes. That no life was lost is a miracle, as some runners and hikers insisted on using Table Mountain on Monday despite warnings from emergency rescue personnel.
UCT’s vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng who has come under sustained attack from regressive forces inside and outside the university needs to be lauded for showing leadership when it mattered most.
On Sunday, students forced out of their residences were accommodated at several hotels in the City Bowl.
Gift of the Givers – no strangers to assisting the destitute – should also be thanked for coming to the aid of students who have had their lives upended in the midst of exams.
Police have already arrested an alleged arsonist for starting the fire. While police are investigating the cause of the fire, we should not make the homeless the scapegoats.