Documents and archival footage from across Africa feared lost in Cape fires

19 April 2021 - 12:45 By Bobby Jordan
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

Archival specialists are on Monday expected to assess the damage to SA’s cultural heritage caused by the raging Table Mountain fire.

It is unclear how many old books and documents were destroyed inside the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Jagger Library, which houses an African studies collection. Documents and film material lost includes material from the entire African continent, not just SA.

“The terrible thing is that it was the archive of the continent,” Laura Robinson from the Cape Town Heritage Trust told TimesLIVE on Monday.

“It was papers and documents going back from all parts of Africa.”

She said it was unclear how much of the collection had been digitised. It was also unclear whether recently installed fire prevention measures had been effective.

The fire also destroyed several historic buildings, both on the university’s upper campus and elsewhere.

One of the casualties was the historic Mostert’s Mill, the only restored working windmill in the country.

The university’s Fuller Hall and the historic Tea Room next to Rhodes Memorial were also destroyed, the Cape Town Heritage Trust said on Monday from an office “enveloped in a pall of smoke and the sun is almost invisible”.

“It is not only the historic buildings themselves that have been lost, but their contents and collections; a memory and resource of immense value to all South Africans and the world,” the trust said.

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

“We understand that the university community has been safely evacuated and no lives have been lost, and for this we are truly thankful.

“It is also understood an urgent meeting will be held to assess the damage to the Jagger Library collection, and we look forward to learning more details on the extent and scale of the damage to the collection.”

TimesLIVE


subscribe