University of Cape Town
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is without doubt the greatest victim of the Rhodes Memorial fire, though all staff and students escaped without harm.
Western Cape government spokesperson James-Brent Styan said on Tuesday that six buildings on the UCT campus were either damaged or destroyed — in addition to the Jagger Reading Room, which is classified as a heritage building.
Professor Sue Harrison, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, described the loss of the Jagger Reading Room as “our major tragedy”, adding that some of the special collections have been lost. There is yet to be clarity on the archival losses, with some academics urging optimism due to fireproofing measures installed under the leadership of former vice-chancellor Dr Max Price.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola told Daily Maverick there was as yet no official confirmation of all the buildings affected, but he confirmed that the list includes the Smuts Hall residence, Fuller Hall residence and the HW Pearson Building.
Christelle Colman, spokesperson for Old Mutual Insure, told SAFM that “most of the big South African universities form part of a specific risk and insurance fund for the tertiary education institutions”, with insurance companies sharing in that risk. As such, Colman said that most insurance firms would be affected.
Colman said that one figure being bandied about with regard to the UCT fire was R1-billion.
Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng told eNCA the damage was estimated at more than R500-million — excluding the loss of priceless books and documents.
Students who have already faced disrupted teaching and learning from the Covid-19 pandemic also kissed goodbye to a week of the academic programme, with classes only resuming on Monday, April 26.
As of Tuesday evening, six firefighters had been confirmed as sustaining injuries.
Styan reported on behalf of the Western Cape government that nine civilians had been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.
Four thousand students had to be evacuated from UCT, some of whom reportedly lost all their possessions in the fire.
An unknown number of residents of an informal settlement next to Walmer Estate also lost their structures and belongings.
In addition to the loss of the magnificent Jagger Reading Room, built in the 1930s, the country’s oldest working windmill was also badly damaged. Mostert’s Mill, built in 1796, was restored in 1995 by the Department of Public Works, but the current damage may put it beyond repair. The South African Heritage Resources Agency did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
There has reportedly been no damage to the Herbert Baker-designed Rhodes Memorial monument, bar some scorching. A group calling itself Friends of Rhodes Memorial has vowed to embark on a clean-up as soon as is permissible.