UCT is stronger because of you

22 July 2021 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear colleagues, students, South Africa and friends from across the world

Three months ago, on 18 April 2021, the wildfire on Table Mountain swept downhill and onto the University of Cape Town (UCT). Hundreds of our students had to be evacuated from UCT residences. Buildings, infrastructure and precious archive materials were damaged or destroyed.

It was a day of smoke, fear, flames and loss – a nightmare for everyone who lives on the slopes of the mountain, but especially for those across the continent and the world who value the riches of the special collections and archives that were housed in the Jagger Library. But it was also the start of many days of heroism and generosity. Of people springing to action to help one another and the university. Some of the help came within minutes of our need. Some is still coming to us. The help came from nearby and from other parts of the world; from corporates, non-profit organisations, trained experts, generous neighbours and volunteers, alumni, former staff providing whatever they could, including muscles and time.

Because of the people who reached out and supported us, UCT’s recovery has proceeded at a rapid and exceptional pace. The fire has reinforced my belief in humanity: people with many different talents, gifts and professions, all working incredibly hard to make our campus more resilient, committed to rebuilding UCT into a place of powerful intellect and knowledge, guided with a compassionate heart and a socially responsive purpose. We are able to envisage a better UCT because of the support you have provided to us in our time of need.

What so many of you gave to us after the fire can never be repaid in tangible terms, because it comes from the heart. So, from the heart of UCT, on behalf of the students and staff members you helped, I am writing to give you this message of thanks in the form of a heartfelt video.

Many volunteers provided help anonymously, expecting no personal thanks – simply joining in where they were needed. But we are mindful of the many different groups who were represented among our supporters, and individuals and organisations who came alongside us. Please join me in giving thanks to:

The national and provincial government offices and the City of Cape Town, for their rapid and efficient responses to the emergency.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and his department for the immediate pledges of assistance in restoring our library assets and assisting our students whose research was disrupted by the fire.

UNESCO Regional Director, Professor Hubert Gijzen, who came to campus on 11 May in support of UCT Libraries. 

The members of UCT Council for their leadership and wisdom

The members of the UCT Executive for leading the teamwork on campus.

Our wonderful students for the many qualities they displayed during the crisis: endurance, courage, in some cases extraordinary bravery and solidarity with one another and UCT staff; and for recommitting themselves to the academic project upon the return to campus.

UCT alumni for their longstanding support, not only in this time of great need but throughout every academic year.

Parents, guardians and sponsors for staying involved with the students they support even from great distances.

The members of the Student Representative Council for their leadership and solidarity.

Every UCT department and faculty, for continuing to demonstrate your excellence on the job even during crisis. I especially want to acknowledge my colleagues in UCT Libraries, Properties & Services and the Department of Student Affairs, for the extraordinary actions they had to take during the fire and its aftermath.

UCT academics, for helping to ensure that our students felt supported during such a traumatic time, and for continuing to display their support as classes and lectures resumed.

UCT professional, administrative support and service staff, for working around the clock to ensure the safety of students, colleagues and the campus, and for the work that they are now doing to help restore buildings and library materials that were lost or damaged.

Donors and non-governmental organisations, for interrupting your full schedules to reach out to UCT at our time of need, and meeting that need with your generous support.

The business community for demonstrating your support of higher education as a way of transforming and rebuilding South Africa. Among the many organisations that responded to our need, we note in particular Pick n Pay Stores, Windmeul, Merrypak, Amazon and Metrofile. 

Philanthropic organisations such as Gift of the Givers, for understanding that higher education and research in Africa is not a luxury but an essential ingredient for creating fair and just society.

Every volunteer who showed up during the fire and its aftermath, to offer your energy, your muscles, your good humour, your donated goods for students in evacuation, your kind support – demonstrating that UCT belongs to everyone in South Africa.

Partners and colleagues in the international community who have sent messages of support, practical advice and expertise, and in some cases boarded a plane to come join us in the weeks after the fire.

Our colleagues in higher education at other institutions in South Africa and abroad, for the messages of support and acts of solidarity, including experts in the Smithsonian Museum and the Library of Congress Preservation Unit in the USA, the University of Pretoria and as far away as Cologne, Germany, who have joined us in salvaging and restoring the precious archives in the Jagger Library.

Members of the media, for reporting that did not just deliver the hard facts of UCT’s losses but also conveyed the magnitude of the loss to South Africa and the very personal nature of this tragedy for staff members and students.

Finally, I express a special vote of thanks to the brave and tenacious teams of firefighters, who fought so hard to protect not only UCT but also the business and residential districts along the slopes of Table Mountain. Our physical presence and safety relies on these skilled warriors, who battle under extreme conditions of heat and smoke and peril. Everyone at UCT joins me in saluting you.

Giving of oneself is a quality UCT seeks to instill in every student, graduate and staff member. It is an important part of social responsiveness, which motivates so much of our groundbreaking research.  It is both humbling and gratifying to be on the receiving end of the giving that has come from outside our campus. But we are stronger, as an institution and as individuals, because of you.

UCT does not only belong to the people who study here or the people who work here; it belongs to all of South Africa – all of Africa. South Africans and many others demonstrated that sense of ownership and pride and solidarity with the institution in the path and the aftermath of the fire.

You can continue to follow UCT’s recovery progress on our website.

Thank you to each of you for standing with us.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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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