Fire at UCT

Lorna Zukas's picture

Dear H- Africa Colleagues,

Many of us are having conversations today about the fire in South Africa that has destroyed parts of the UCT campus. I asked a colleague at University of Cape Town if there is anything that we can do to help. The response is informational.  There is a very practical call for academics who have used The African Studies Library special collections to share the images of the documents/images they've used.


The African Studies Library reading room was completely gutted but apparently, some of the special collection was behind fireproof doors. We're still waiting to hear about the extent of the damage though.


The African Studies Library special collections is irreplaceable, rare and oh so valuable. It houses the Bleek Lloyd collection which includes artwork, drawings, recorded stories and detailed notebooks of their engagement with the /Xam and !Kun Cape San people of the mid 19th century.


The special collections is also the repository of the earliest isiXhosa dictionaries, newspapers and periodicals. It's also home to Ray Alexander Simons's papers, the Black Sash archives, some UDF collections, and so much more.


The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at UCT has set up a dedicated space on our website, where they can collate all the latest updates on the destruction, and hopefully survival, of the African Studies Collection and other sections of UCT’s Special Collections Library. They will also use this space to provide regular updates directly from those responsible.

This will also serve as a point for rallying volunteers for any possible assistance required by the Special Collection’s teams. Importantly, they also envisage this as a space for supporting future efforts at the reconvening digitally of any materials that might have been lost, copies of which researchers might hold.  

For the moment, they have set-up a dedicated email address where you are welcome to send suggestions, indicate support and send details of the research materials you may hold from the collections.

So, of course there are calls for donations etc, but there's also been a call for academics who have used these collections to share the images of the documents/images they've used.

See this link:

UCT African Studies Library Special Collections Recovery


Here are the details for donations:


1. Gift of the Givers Foundation


BANK: Standard Bank

BRANCH: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa



2. Account name: UCT Donations Account

Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa

Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009

Account number: 07 152 2387

Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

Please include your donor name if you so wish, as well as the reference for your donation, e.g. Name Surname, #UCTFire.


This is the message from the ED of the UCT Libraries.


Dear Colleagues, staff, students and friends of UCT Libraries

An unexpected natural disaster struck at the heart of UCT Libraries today and I write this message with a deep sense of sorrow and loss at the havoc and devastation it wrought upon the Reading Room of the Jagger Library.

As some of us watched, from on site, with horror and helplessness this elegant and historical library burn, I can only imagine the shock and horror you must have felt as you watched the news reports and pictures of this destruction.

At this stage, we can confirm the Reading Room is completely gutted and thankfully the fire detection system in place triggered the fire shutters thereby preventing the spread of the fire to other parts of the Library. 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 that individuals refrain from speculation and conjecture.

I wish to acknowledge:

- the prompt and co-ordinated efforts of the various UCT Properties and Services teams with our Facilities team

- the City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue teams for all their efforts to control the fire and contain further damage to the Jagger Library

- all the messages of support and offers of assistance for crisis conservation and our recovery efforts. We will certainly call upon you to be a part of this.

To the staff and students, 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. We will keep you updated of developments and our recovery plans.

Ujala Satgoor, Executive Director