Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande said the fire that broke out at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has exposed the vulnerabilities of the humanities and social sciences.
Nzimande visited UCT last week to assess the damages on some of the buildings, caused by a fire that broke out on 18 April.
During his visit, University Council Chairperson Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe and the Vice Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng briefed the minister on how the institution is recovering.
“The rescue process began on 19 April 2021, the day after the fire, when UCT Libraries Executive Director Ujala Satgoor appointed team leaders for the salvage and recovery project, said Phakeng.
Students at the institution’s residences were evacuated after the fire broke as fears of their safety arose, however, great damage was caused to historical parts and belongings of the university.
Students have since returned to their residences and learning is in full swing.
Nzimande said there have been brave efforts to salvage precious records and archives, especially from among the ruins of the Jagger Library’s African Studies collection.
“The include maps, rare antiquarian books, film, video collections, newspapers, journals, magazines, pamphlets, manuscripts, government records, photographs and paintings,” said Nzimande.
Phakeng said salvaging the archive material is only the first phase of the recovery plan.
“The second phase is the conservation process. This delicate work is being assisted by a team of capable conservationists who are working in the triage tent that was set up outside the library on 21 April 2021,” said Phakeng.
The department of higher education has committed to supporting the rebuilding of the library by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the National Research Foundation.
“This will include supporting UCT’s Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative in their ongoing efforts and encourage people to volunteer their support to the Jagger Salvage Operation, which began on 13 May,” said Nzimande.
Nzimande said rebuilding the library to go beyond digitising archives so that while these physical archives are preserved and protected against all future vulnerabilities, the library provides space to view such archives electronically, globally and within the library too.
People across the country have been hands on with assisting the university to make sure that students and staff are safe and fed.
Nzimande thanked all the emergency services and the South African National Parks who assisted in containing the fire.
“I commend the leadership demonstrated by the University Council and Management in managing this unfortunate incident,” added Nzimande.