The first step to rebuilding

19 April 2021 | Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

I hope you are all well and in places of safety. I know many of you are feeling displaced – whether you are a student who had to be evacuated from your residence, or a staff member whose home may be in danger or whose University of Cape Town (UCT) workplace has been affected by the fire. Simply watching the destruction that unfolded yesterday can leave us feeling disoriented.

Each of us is coming to terms with the scale of what we are witnessing. In the midst of so much heartbreak, so many people across UCT and Cape Town provided rapid responses to this crisis yesterday. Your generosity and compassion have been overwhelming, and on behalf of UCT I thank you.

We all share a deep sense of grief for what we have lost. We join our colleagues at UCT Libraries, and academics around the world, in lamenting the destruction of the Jagger Library Reading Room and the priceless collections that were stored in the archives. Other UCT buildings across Rondebosch and Rosebank have been damaged. We are assessing the damage and will provide further updates as we are able.

The academic project, which is the heart of university life, has been disrupted. Our students were frightened yesterday and now they are anxious about their education. Many of our staff are concerned about their work or other valuable collections that are housed on campus.

While we are still dealing with the pandemic, this new ordeal has been placed on us. But here is what gives me hope: none of us faces this challenge alone. We can help each other to become stronger through these harsh circumstances. We can help each other to rise.

Before COVID-19 struck, UCT had already committed to the goal of Vision 2030: to unleash human capacity to create a fair and just society. To do so, we need to unleash our own capacity. This is our choice today: to grab the opportunity to grow within this challenge, knowing how hard it may be at times.

I know some of us are feeling overwhelmed now. Others will feel overwhelmed later. Choosing to ask for help from a trained counsellor is one of the ways we learn how to become stronger. So if you would like to contact a counsellor, the following services are available on a toll-free phone line:

  • SA Depression and Anxiety Group: 080 024 2526
  • ICAS: 080 111 3945

UCT will, of course, rebuild our facilities. We cannot replace the treasures of scholarship we have lost, but we can create new treasures out of our own scholarship. In the same way, each of us can rebuild our own sense of purpose out of this tragedy. To do so, we need to help each other. This is a team effort, and I convey my sincere gratitude for the commitment and help that you are all giving in the interest of UCT.

With your help, we will emerge stronger from this terrible episode.

Yours in rebuilding

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Please note: Donations can be made online through the UCT Alumni Ways to Give web page.

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