Cape Town fire UCT Library

Photo: Twitter

Cape Town fire: ‘Worst tragedy for intellectual records’ at UCT library

A devastating fire in Cape Town has destroyed valuable intellectual records of African studies at the University of Cape Town Library.

Cape Town fire UCT Library

Photo: Twitter

A runaway veld fire in Cape Town has left devastating destruction in its wake, including the obliteration of intellectual property containing records of African Studies that “can never be replaced”.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) African Studies Library and several other buildings were destroyed in Cape Town on Sunday. Thousands of students have since been evacuated from the UCT campus as firefighters continue to battle the blaze.


According to the UCT website, the university library’s special collection consists of books and pamphlets that exceeds 85 000 items on African studies alone. “The collection of African film is among the most extensive in the world, with over 3 000 films available for viewing and research.”

Patric Mellet, a heritage practitioner and liberation activist, said the destruction of the African Studies library at UCT is the worst tragedy for intellectual record.

“I am in tears. The African Studies Library at UCT is in flames. I lodged my printers archive of over 1 500 publications that I printed over 14 years of exile when I ran the liberation movement printing press. These were mostly a record of the underground publications.”

Mellet added that a comprehensive list of records and publications were destroyed in the Cape Town fire.

“It was a comprehensive record of my productions as a litho-printer… my contribution of printing day and night over all of those years. I believed that the African Studies Library was one of the most secure archival institutions and also accessible to any researcher.”

“What a loss and what a loss of so much more. I believe it is also the repository of the Bleek Lloyd collection of the materials… art, recorded stories and notebooks of their engagement with the /Xam and !Kun Cape San people of the mid 19th century…. and so much more. This is one of the worst tragedies for intellectual record that can never be replaced.”


UCT Libraries Executive Director, Ujala Satgoor, said in a statement on Sunday that valuable collections have been lost.

“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.”

“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,” said Satgoor.

Satgoor added that it’s 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.”

READ: Watch | Cape Town fire: Dreadful scenes as UCT Library goes up in flames