Update on Reimagining Jagger Library

04 August 2022

Dear colleagues and students

When our treasured Jagger Library was destroyed in the fire of April 2021, we made an important commitment to rebuild together. Even as we mourned the loss of our remarkable archives, we vowed to use this tragedy as a way to follow our Vision 2030 strategy: to rethink higher education, knowledge and the role of the University of Cape Town (UCT) as a thought leader and change maker.

We took an unconventional approach in rebuilding the Jagger library by inviting the UCT community and members of the public to help us reimagine the Jagger Library. This collaborative approach provides a model for how we will institute future building projects, so that all of us can be an active part of our growth as an institution and a community.

After all, Vision 2030 calls us to be a more community-related, inclusive, diverse and engaged institution. This is a rich opportunity to broaden the horizon of the Jagger Library rebuilding project.

The Futures Think Tank is playing an important role in the reimagination of the Jagger Library and the surviving African Studies archives. Under the leadership of Professor Alison Lewis, the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment, over the past six months the Futures Think Tank held imaginariums and workshops with more than 300 stakeholders, including primary school learners, university students, academics and members of the Cape Town community. The purpose was to create partnerships and invite fresh ideas on what the restored library should look like, in the spirit and energy of Vision 2030.

On Thursday, 28 July 2022, we exhibited these early imaginings in the Molly Blackburn Building. Following the exhibition, the posters will be mounted on the hoarding around the Jagger Library site to help inspire us all for the next phase of the rebuilding project.

Our colleagues in UCT Libraries demonstrated that even tragedy can be disrupted: they turned around the natural human reaction of despair and loss and developed a salvage plan that united us all in hope and courage. Their response to this heartbreak helped to lay the foundation for the exhibition.

On behalf of university, I thank the Executive Director: Libraries, Ujala Satgoor, and the hard-working UCT Libraries team for inspiring us with their care, courage and commitment. I thank Professor Lewis for the leadership she has provided in this project. I also thank Dr Heeten Bhagat, who managed this project on behalf of the Futures Think Tank. My gratitude also goes out to every staff member, student and all the other stakeholders who have contributed their time and ideas to this process.

UCT has received more than R100 million as part of the interim insurance payments to cover costs related to the fire. Determining the full insurance value of the lost rare and antiquated materials, heritage buildings and assets will take time, as there are so many variables to consider. But it is a start. As a result of the interim insurance payment, we have not needed to draw on the internal funding that the UCT Council had made available to assist with expenses during the early part of the recovery process.

UCT has not been urged to pursue legal action, nor is the university doing so. Any intended litigation would be between the respective insurers of each party (UCT, City of Cape Town and SANParks). The university intends to comply with its obligations in line with the terms and conditions of our insurance cover.

We want the new Jagger Library to be a space for rethinking, reimagining, re-energising and repurposing higher education; for creating a strong, purposeful community of knowledge builders and knowledge users who will help lead the many changes we foresee in the future. We will continue to communicate our progress to you.

Of course, the fire of April 2021 affected other buildings as well as our students and staff members. So I want to update you on the additional recovery steps we have taken:

  • students and staff members who lost personal items during the fire have been paid
  • the affected student residences have been repaired
  • reinstatement reports for the Cadbol and La Grotta buildings have been delivered to the insurers
  • extensive rebuilding at the HW Pearson Building is underway and will likely be completed towards the end of 2023 *
  • all temporary worksites on the main plaza on upper campus have been removed, including all containers used by UCT Libraries for archive salvage work
  • a temporary roof has been installed over the Jagger Library reading room, Cadbol and La Grotta to protect the heritage structures against further structural damage
  • the basement of the Jagger reading room has been cleared of all materials.

UCT remains particularly grateful for the generous support and commitment offered by so many volunteers, donors, staff, students, government, corporates and the community.

As we continue the journey of recovery, we draw from each other’s strength, resilience and the well of ideas and contributions of UCT community members. You are all an important part of this new chapter in the life of the university.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

* This list item previously indicated that extensive rebuilding at the Pearson Building was near completion, and has been updated on 11 August 2022 to reflect the more accurate timeline.

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