#UCTFire, VC’s Open Lecture and COVID-19 update

28 April 2021 | Campus Announcement

Dear colleagues and students

The Table Mountain fire that affected large parts of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Rondebosch campus on Sunday, 18 April, resulted in the emergency evacuation of approximately 4 000 UCT students. Read a summary of key updates since the fire, as well as other news.

1. #UCTFire

We are deeply appreciative of the role played by the Students’ Representative Council, our students and our staff in ensuring the evacuation was completed safely. Read about the impact of the fires on UCT operations, the evacuation, support for students and staff, and the #UCTFire emergency relief fund below.

Impact on academic year

The academic programme at UCT resumed on Monday, 26 April. The faculties will individually manage the lost week in terms of the curriculum and will communicate with their students about scheduled tests and assignments.

Return to residences

Following the evacuation of over 4 000 students on Sunday, 18 April, the university was fortunately able to accommodate them at various hotels across the city. Students have been returned to their residences and alternative arrangements have been made for students whose residences have been deemed unsafe due to fire damage.

Our priority is ensuring the health and safety of every student and creating the conditions necessary for a full return to the university’s academic programme as soon as possible.

Counselling support

The university is deeply concerned about the shock and fear that may have been experienced by students and staff because of the recent fire. If you would like to contact a counsellor, the following services are standing by for you on a toll-free phone line:

  • SADAG UCT Student Careline: 0800 24 25 26 or SMS 31393 for a callback
  • ICAS: 080 111 3945 or send a please call me by dialling *134*905#

To help affected students come to terms with this traumatic event, the UCT Student Wellness Service (SWS) has set up satellite clinics at most accommodation sites. The clinics offer students medical assistance, as well as trauma debriefing and counselling.

Those who need support can reach out to an SWS representative on site or call 021 650 1271 / 021 650 5620 for group-session details. Students can also book a counselling appointment online. Students are reminded that they can still make use of all SWS offerings and that the main clinic remains open for students to collect their medication.

Emergency fund and other donations

Anyone who would like to support the #UCTFire emergency relief fund can make donations online through the UCT Alumni Ways to Give web page.

Financial donations can also be sent to:

Account name: UCT Donations Account
Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa
Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009
Account number: 07 152 2387
Swift code: SBZAZAJJ

Please include #UCTFire as the reference for your donation, as well as your donor name, if you so wish, eg Name Surname, #UCTFire.

The UCT community extends its sincerest gratitude to members of the public and corporations for their generous donations thus far.

Returning UCT’s buildings to academic activity

The university brought an independent external technical team onto campus to work with UCT’s internal Occupational Health and Safety team, to assess the air quality in selected buildings that were not damaged by fire. These teams established a programme to ensure the air quality in campus buildings through appropriate ventilation and aeration.

Impact on Jagger Reading Room

The Jagger Reading Room, home to the significant African Studies Collection (started in 1953), was destroyed by the Table Mountain fire on Sunday, 18 April. The team at UCT Libraries confirmed that the archival and published print collections kept within the Reading Room were consumed by the flames.

Impact on research activities

The damage caused by the Table Mountain fire at UCT is weighing heavily on members of the institution’s core research team and professional research support team, who are now taking stock of the damages, the losses to the institution, and the work required to return the university to full operation.

While many staff and students will be able to work remotely on research, the university is aware of the demand that this crisis may place on others. UCT is prioritising efforts to restart research activities, including those on campus, so that we can all return to work as soon as personal circumstances allow.

A message from the chancellor

UCT Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe wrote to the UCT community to thank everyone who had a hand in managing the fire and evacuating students from campus. She expressed her sorrow at the events but gratitude that no lives were lost. She believes that while much has been lost, our focus now must be on rebuilding.

Please send us your #UCTFire stories

Following the fire on UCT’s campus, many of you have stories that can encourage and inspire others. These stories might be about something you did, or about something others did that impressed you. Maybe you would like to say “Thank you” to someone for what they did for you or others. No matter how big or how small, we would like to hear your part of the experience.

Please email your stories, photos and videos to newsdesk@uct.ac.za, with your name and contact details.

2. Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture: Professor Abhijit Banerjee

Nobel laureate Professor Abhijit Banerjee, the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will present a Vice-Chancellor’s Open Lecture titled “Good Economics for Hard Times”. He will speak on what economics can teach us about recovery today given the hard times the world is facing because of the ongoing pandemic, the daunting outlook of economic contraction on the horizon and rampant climate change. It will take place on Thursday, 29 April, on the Microsoft Teams online platform. Please register online to attend the lecture.

3. Update on COVID-19 cases

As at 15 April, the university has 350 reported cases of COVID-19 among non-health sciences staff members, with 324 recoveries. The number of students who have tested positive stands at 105 with 102 recoveries. The university has lost 19 staff members and three students to the virus.


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