Update on #UCTFire damage

29 April 2021 | Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues and students

I am writing to report to you on the damage caused at the University of Cape Town (UCT) by the #UCTFire, based on the initial assessments conducted by the Properties & Services Department (P&S). Of course, the most important fact is that no lives were lost. We remain grateful to our brave firefighters and we extend wishes for a rapid recovery to those who were injured in the line of duty. Thank you again to everyone from across UCT who worked so tirelessly in the immediate aftermath of the fire and in this last week. Your efforts have been extraordinary in the face of a deeply challenging time, not only because of the fire but also because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UCT is at present co-operating with its insurers, whose investigations into the events and consequences of the fire on 18 April are at an early stage and remain ongoing.

We are also conducting a full occupational health and safety audit that is a statutory responsibility. Furthermore, and separate from the investigation process initiated by the insurers, UCT will undertake its own investigation and will do so on the basis of legal advice obtained. This will be concluded in due course and will be considered by Council. South African National Parks, as our direct neighbour, and the City of Cape Town have also launched separate investigations. We will work closely with them in this regard.

The speculation as to  the causes of the fire is understandable. At this point it is not possible to address questions posed in this regard whilst investigations are at an early stage.

The following buildings have had significant structural damage and will remain closed for the foreseeable future:

  • The Jagger Library Reading Room and Special Collections (Upper Campus)
  • HW Pearson Building (Upper Campus)
  • Cadbol House (which housed the Student Housing Office in Lower Campus)
  • La Grotta (which housed the Staff Recruitment Office in Lower Campus)
  • Fuller Residence (Upper Campus)
  • Smuts Residence (Upper Campus)

The following buildings and facilities have sustained minor damage and are open, although they may still need repairs (unless otherwise noted, they are all on Upper Campus):

  • 11 Woodbine Road (Residence in Rondebosch)
  • AC Jordan
  • Botany Glass House
  • Ivan Toms Pergola in Lower Campus
  • Leslie Commerce
  • Leslie Social Science
  • Molecular & Cell Biology
  • RW James
  • Tennis Courts
  • Upper Campus in general
  • Woolsack Residence in Lower Campus

While the damage varies, the electrical, information and communications systems and mechanical systems were often affected, and the lifts stopped working in both Leslie Commerce and Leslie Social Science. Lighting poles were damaged in the tennis courts and along Upper Campus roads.

P&S has developed a four-phase outline for the #UCTFire Recovery Plan. Phase One is almost completed, with the return of most of our students to residence (and the relocation of Fuller and Smuts students to temporary accommodation); the restoration of a safe campus environment; the resumption of the academic project as much as possible; and the ongoing salvaging of our precious archive materials in the HW Pearson Building and the Jagger Library.

You can see photos of the excellent progress that is being made in the Jagger Library salvage work on the UCT Libraries Facebook page. What has made this progress possible is the time and energy of the many volunteers who have provided much-needed assistance since last Friday. Your ongoing help in this project is making a difference that will be felt for many future generations of academics.

I also acknowledge the work of the countless volunteers who helped our students who were evacuated. Colleagues from many different UCT departments joined in preparing parcels for students who had to leave their residences without basic necessities. Others helped to settle students into their temporary accommodation and to return them to residence.

We remain grateful to the various organisations that assisted in this process, including non-governmental organisations that, without an invitation, went far beyond their call of duty; corporates that provided donations and support in various forms; and hotels that opened their facilities at short notice to accommodate UCT students. We have received emails, calls and words of encouragement from students, parents, staff, and friends in the local and international community who were concerned about the safety of all students and staff evacuated during the fire. The university continues to provide support to all those affected: our Student Wellness Service (SWS) is caring for students and our staff are receiving support from ICAS.

As many of you are aware, we planned to introduce study spaces for day students from 19 April 2021. Due to the fire, this has been delayed. I am extremely pleased to advise that the plan for creating study spaces for day students is going forward, from 3 May to 24 December 2021. The intended users are students who are not living in residences and who, due to structural and systemic inequality, have limited internet connectivity and/or are studying in conditions not conducive for learning. The selected venues will be monitored by study space marshals who are trained senior students who report to the Department of Student Affairs (DSA). The study spaces will operate from 08:00 to 20:00, Monday to Friday.

Please remember that the university remains committed to maintaining a low-density campus. We urge students to access campus only if it is necessary. We discourage students who may have health and medical risks from accessing campus. If in doubt, please contact SWS.

Everyone within the UCT community mourns the damage caused by the unprecedented fire. While we are immensely grateful that no students or staff lost their lives as a result, we are united in our shock at the losses sustained by the Jagger Library and other campus buildings.

There are many different, and sometimes personal, ways that members of the UCT community helped one another during and after the fire. We know that many of you have meaningful stories, photos and videos of your own #UCTFire experience. I urge you to send them to newsdesk@uct.ac.za, with your name and contact details. Talking about what happened is an important part of the recovery process after a trauma such as the #UCTFire. I encourage you to share your stories as we rebuild.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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

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#UCTFire – one year later

Jagger Library Memorial Exhibition opens on 20 April 2022

The Centre for Curating the Archive, in association with Michaelis Galleries (UCT) and UCT Libraries will stage a memorial exhibition marking the one-year anniversary of the tragic Jagger Library fire at the Michaelis Galleries. The exhibition will open to the public on Wednesday, 20 April 2022.

Campus communications


Updates on Campus Fire


Campus communications

News and videos

Memories of Jagger Library – stories from the UCT community

Content submitted by members of the UCT community has been published with little to no editorial intervention from UCT News.

#UCTFire – stories from the UCT community

Content submitted by members of the UCT community has been published with little to no editorial intervention from UCT News. 


In an email to UCT students, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said:
“Thank you for your patience as we seek ways to return to full academic activity at the University of Cape Town under COVID-19 regulations. Our first priority is to ensure the health and safety of everyone who needs to return to campus buildings.”

UCT is deeply grateful to all the donors who supplied food and other essential items for our students, and to everyone who has so generously offered other forms of support and assistance.

Everyone who would like to support the #UCTFire emergency relief fund is urged to please make financial donations to UCT through the UCT Alumni Ways to Give web page.

Donations can also be made by EFT using the details below:
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 your donor name if you so wish, as well as the reference for your donation, e.g. Name Surname, #UCTFire.

Messages of support

Cengage EMEA 17:00, 7 June 2021
Ricardo de Sao Joao 16:00, 17 May 2021
J.P. Morgan 10:00, 17 May 2021
Unilever Southern Africa 16:10, 6 May 2021
Iziko Museums of South Africa 16:20, 5 May 2021
Sciences Po, France 10:05, 4 May 2021
The University of Tokyo 09:00, 30 April 2021
McCall MacBain Foundation 16:00, 29 April 2021
Stephen Toope, Chair of IARU 23:50, 27 April 2021
Mazi Asset Management 21:00, 27 April 2021
The National Archives (UK) 17:40, 27 April 2021
Universiteit Antwerpen 16:20, 26 April 2021
Yale University 21:15, 23 April 2021
SOAS University of London 17:00, 23 April 2021
University of Nairobi 15:45, 23 April 2021
Zhejiang University 12:05, 23 April 2021
University of Glasgow 11:20, 23 April 2021
Durham University 18:20, 22 April 2021
Sanlam Corporate Team 16:00, 22 April 2021
MANCOSA 16:00, 22 April 2021
Mastercard Foundation 13:30, 22 April 2021
National Research Foundation 09:05, 22 April 2021
Taylor & Francis 08:20, 22 April 2021
McGill University, Canada 21:35, 21 April 2021
Wild Bean Café 19:50, 21 April 2021
Worldwide Universities Network 19:10, 21 April 2021
University of Groningen 13:35, 21 April 2021
National University of Lesotho 11:00, 21 April 2021
Google South Africa 10:35, 21 April 2021
Chinese Ambassador Chen Xiaodong 09:00, 21 April 2021
George Whitefield College 08:40, 21 April 2021
Virginia Tech 02:00, 21 April 2021
University of Southampton 18:10, 20 April 2021
University of the Free State 17:25, 20 April 2021
KU Leuven 15:45, 20 April 2021
Northwestern University 15:45, 20 April 2021
Council on Higher Education 14:00, 20 April 2021
Times Higher Education 11:45, 20 April 2021
Regent Business School 11:15, 20 April 2021
Professor Crain Soudien 09:05, 20 April 2021
University of the Western Cape 09:00, 20 April 2021
Bishop Tshalo Katshunga 07:30, 20 April 2021
National Library of France 20:50, 19 April 2021
Thabo Mbheki Foundation 20:00, 19 April 2021
Stellenbosch University 19:10, 19 April 2021
Chinese Embassy in South Africa 17:20, 19 April 2021
University of Hull 17:00, 19 April 2021
University of Copenhagen 13:25, 19 April 2021
Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies 13:10, 19 April 2021
Mastercard Foundation 10:50, 19 April 2021
Stellenbosch University 09:20, 19 April 2021
Minister Blade Nzimande 09:15, 19 April 2021
Committee on Higher Education 09:10, 19 April 2021
University of the Witwatersrand 09:05, 19 April 2021
University of Pretoria 09:00, 19 April 2021