Re-energising UCT research

20 April 2021 | Professor Sue Harrison

Dear UCT staff, postdoctoral researchers and postgrad students

I am sure that the damage of the Table Mountain fire at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is weighing heavily on you members of the institution’s core research team and professional research support team, just as it is on UCT’s Executive. We are now taking stock of the damages, the losses to UCT and the work to be done to return the university to full operation.

While we are certainly all feeling the pressure of this new disruption to teaching and learning and research at UCT, we are pleased to report that all our staff and students are safe, following the efficient evacuation from campus on Sunday. For this we express appreciation to the UCT teams who jumped into action and ran operations smoothly to protect our people and, wherever possible, our buildings and facilities. We also celebrate the tireless work of the City of Cape Town fire and emergency services. Both groups demonstrated a superior level of commitment and teamwork.

With teamwork in mind, I encourage each of you to give your first attention to your personal safety and well-being. While many of you will be able to work remotely on research, we are aware of the demand that this crisis may place on others. UCT is prioritising efforts to restart our research activities, including those on campus, so that we can all return to work as soon as our personal circumstances allow.

Of course, our major tragedy is the loss of the Jagger Library Reading Room and, with it, some of our Special Collections. These have been key research facilities for many of you, whose access was already limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the Pearson Building was also damaged, but I am pleased to report that the historic Bolus collection, which is housed there, remains intact. The damage to the building and the need to preserve this important collection will affect Biological Sciences and related research.

In addition to the physical losses, the research programme has been set back by the fire. While fire damage to our buildings is variable, there is the risk throughout our operations of smoke inhalation, especially as the fire continues to burn across the city and wind direction may change. Until the fire is extinguished, evacuation remains a possibility.

For these reasons, and because we need to assess the safety of UCT buildings, we request all staff and students to remain off campus. We will reopen our academic buildings as soon as possible and will issue instructions for returning to campus when it is safe to do so.

If your research requires urgent attention on campus and you have not already been contacted about it, please email Dr Linda Mtwisha.

We look forward to rebuilding UCT’s on-site research over the coming months, not only to put behind us the effects of the pandemic and the fire, but also to continue to unleash our capacity as researchers to help build a fair and just society. UCT’s focus on social impact remains as strong now as it ever was.

Many thanks for your understanding and your commitment to knowledge generation, translation and sharing, building the Africa-focused knowledge base of South Africa and the rest of the continent.


Professor Sue Harrison
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation

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