The Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town has been severely damaged by fire. The library houses the university’s special collections, which includes its historic African literature collections. The Rondebosch campus was also affected. No fatalities have been reported so far.

The fire started at Rhodes Memorial on Sunday and spread to the University by Monday morning. Multiple news outlets report that at least one arrest has been made. Firefighters and emergency personnel have been on ground handling the fire and carrying out some evacuations.

There is no official word yet on how much of the collections is lost. But the building, which is itself historic, is currently so severely damaged that it might not be salvageable, implying considerable losses to archives of prized African literary documents.

According to the library’s website, J.W. Jagger Library holds the African Studies collections, which contains “approximately 65 000 volumes, including up-to-date materials as well as works on Africa and South Africa printed before 1925, and many hard-to-find volumes in a wide range of European and African languages. The pamphlet collection consists of just under 26 000 titles, with a further 800 rare or old titles, published before 1925.” Ujala Satgoor, Executive Director of the library, said on Facebook earlier today that “the fire detection system in place triggered the fire shutters thereby preventing the spread of the fire to other parts of the Library.” But she also noted that library’s “Reading Room is completely gutted,” meaning that everything not protected by the shutter is probably lost.

Go here for information on how to DONATE to the #utcfire emergency relief fund. Some scholars are circulating this link where anyone with digital copies of documents from the collection can share them.

Here are videos of the burning and the aftermath.

This is Ujala Satgoor’s full statement posted on Facebook from earlier today.

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.
These photos capture building burning.
The South African (c)
aljazeera (c)
The South African (c)
Bussiness Live SA (c)
Aljazeera (c)
Aljazeera (c)


Facebook graph image via The South African.