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Mbhazima Shilowa questions those 'celebrating' the burning of UCT's library with 'our own stories'

20 April 2021 - 11:33 By unathi nkanjeni
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

Former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa has joined scores questioning those celebrating the burning of the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Jagger Library.

The library was gutted by a raging fire in the city on Sunday morning. It housed a priceless African Studies collection, which included more than 1,300 sub-collections of unique manuscripts and personal papers.

The collection of books and pamphlets on African studies alone exceeds 85,000 items.

While many expressed shock at the devastation of the fire, some on social media claimed “black intellectuals are mourning the burning of the UCT library because they hope to finish their thesis sooner than later”.

Some said the amount of sympathy shown towards the library is never shown for burning shacks.

Shilowa asked who in their right mind would celebrate the burning of the institution which housed stories about “our own people”.

“Who being in the right mind celebrate a fire gutting an institution of higher learning let alone a library with many materials some of which are about our own stories told by our own people?” asked Shilowa.

Weighing in, radio personality Redi Tlhabi said many of those who are celebrating don't like reading. “And they don't understand the thing on which they are commenting. No nuance, no reckoning with history ... just banal framing of issues,” she said.

On Monday, the executive director of the UCT library, Ujala Satgoor, said a full assessment of the library will be done once the building has been declared safe.

“Some of our valuable collections have been lost However, a full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe and we can enter the building. An official statement is forthcoming and until such time, I request individuals refrain from speculation and conjecture,” said Satgoor.

“This is indeed a sad day for UCT and UCT libraries. Although this loss will be felt deeply, we will weather this storm and rise from the ashes.”

The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, said affected students and those who were feeling overwhelmed would be offered counselling.

“UCT will, of course, rebuild our facilities. We cannot replace the treasures of scholarship we have lost, but we can create new treasures out of our own scholarship. In the same way, each of us can rebuild our own sense of purpose out of this tragedy,” said Phakeng.

“To do so, we need to help each other. This is a team effort, and I convey my sincere gratitude for the commitment and help that you are all giving in the interest of UCT.