UCT’s historic Jagger Reading Room lost to fire

23 April 2021 | Words Helen Swingler. Photos Lerato Maduna.

Dismay and grief met the news that the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) historic Jagger Reading Room had been lost to fire on 18 April. The Jagger Reading Room was home to the African Studies collection, started in 1953, as well as portions of many other collections: journals, ephemera, manuscripts, film and video, and maps and rare antiquarian books. The facility, initially called the JW Jagger Library, was built in the 1930s and named after a UCT major benefactor. It served as the main library for a time and then as a short loans centre. From 2000 to 2011 it was the reading room of the African Studies Library. In 2011 it was significantly restored. Commenting on the fire’s aftermath, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said: “Many of us will feel the devastation of the loss of this significant institutional asset but we will walk the road to rebuild our facilities together.”


The photos in this essay show some of the ruins inside the Jagger Library following the devastating fire that burned the Reading Room and parts of the foyer; with vaults and storage facilities getting wet, some archives have been destroyed.

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