IN PICS | UCT fire: South Africans help stranded students as university suspends academic activities

18 April 2021 - 21:38 By shonisani tshikalange
Inside the Jagger Library that was gutted at the University of Cape Town. The library contained a priceless African Studies collection.
Inside the Jagger Library that was gutted at the University of Cape Town. The library contained a priceless African Studies collection.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Cape Town residents, corporates, politicians and organisations have rallied to help thousands of University of Cape Town (UCT) students and citizens affected by the runaway fire that devastated the city on Sunday.

The blaze engulfed the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and parts of UCT, including the Jagger Library, which houses the priceless African Studies collection.

In a statement, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) said initial investigations show that a fire suspected to have been left unattended by a vagrant is believed to have been the cause of the fire which has seen hundreds of students evacuated from the campus residences.

The UCT student representative council advised students to make their way to the Mowbray bus station where they would be transported to accommodation provided by the campus.

Den Anker restaurant has extended an invitation to UCT res students who were directly affected by the fire.

“Any UCT res students that have been evacuated are welcomed to come to the restaurant and have a meal. They just need to bring their student card as proof of evacuation,” said the general manager of the restaurant Rejeanne Vlietman.

Vlietman said she was moved when she saw students standing with suitcases at a sidewalk.

She said she was currently having discussions to work on a long-term solution.

“I was driving this afternoon coming home and I just saw all these students from the pavement and obviously we knew there was a fire at play, ... I mean all these young people so far from home, no family and support structure, and they are on the pavement. We have had some guys who started coming from this evening, we were hoping that the fire will be put out, however, if not we are still in discussion on how we can expand our footprint and make this readily available to the students who have been displaced,” she said.

Firefighters have been working since Sunday morning to extinguish the runaway fire that engulfed Rhodes Memorial and spread towards the University of Cape Town.
Firefighters have been working since Sunday morning to extinguish the runaway fire that engulfed Rhodes Memorial and spread towards the University of Cape Town.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

International humanitarian aid organisation, Gift of the Givers was leading the drive and had prepared meals for 4,000 students for the evening.

“UCT has requested Gift of the Givers to manage the feeding and other essentials for the next week,” said the organisation.

The organisation is working with Pick n Pay, Engen, Old Mutual and Woolworths to provide assistance for those in need.

Mmusi Maimane's One SA Movement has also extended a call to students who are stranded.

Maimane said the organisation has secured some emergency accommodation for students who didn't have a place to stay.

E-hailing services Uber and Bolt have also come to party, with free rides for stranded students.

Uber is offering two free trips of up to R100 each while Bolt has made one free ride available.

Cape Town residents have also donated energy drinks, water and other essentials for firefighters and first responders.

“I wish to express our gratitude for the efforts of firefighters who have been working non-stop to bring this massive fire under control. It is saddening to note that property and historic buildings have been damaged by this fire.

“It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost at the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works were saved by the quick activation of roller doors. Our attention and support remains with firefighters and all role players working to protect further loss of property,” said City of Cape Town mayor Dan Plato.

A helicopter water bombs the fire near the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town.
A helicopter water bombs the fire near the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

Meanwhile, the South African Students Congress (Sasco) has called on university management to grant affected students an extended deadline on all course work.

We wish to call on the university management to be considerate during this tragic incident and prioritise the safety and mental stability of the traumatised students and grant an extension for all submissions which were due today and this week by at least seven days. We can’t have refugees being traumatised by fire and university notices for school work due,” said the Sasco NEC.

UCT said in a communique on Sunday that all academic activities will be suspended on Monday and Tuesday.

LISTEN | 'We are waiting to find out if it's safe to go home' - Vredehoek resident speaks about evacuation

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