Cape Town Mayor Says Some of UCT Library's Valuable Works Saved by Quick Action. Photo: Gift of the Givers

Cape Town’s Executive Mayor Dan Plato says that some of the most valuable works in the UCT library, which was engulfed in flames because of the Table Mountain Fire today, have fortunately been saved.

Many South Africans were devastated to see the University of Cape Town Library burning on Sunday… watching some of South Africa’s richest heritage go up in flames, particularly in the African Studies Library. The UCT Library is over 100 years old and stored generations of rare books and resources including, for instance, the Olive Schreiner archives and manuscripts.

Mayor Plato said on Sunday evening:

“It is saddening to note that property and historic buildings have been damaged by this fire. It is tragic that literary treasures have been lost at the UCT library, but I have been informed that some of the most valuable works were saved by the quick activation of roller doors.”

A WhatsApp message, purportedly from a UCT librarian, has also been going viral, in which the librarian says:

“The reading room is apparently gutted. That’s the African Studies Collection and African Film gone, as well as at least one of the rare books collections, and probably the recently renovated Gov Pubs, but that’s not clear. There’s a fire shutter between those, so hopefully that survived. The Gov Pubs materials were, however, mostly in the upper levels of Jagger due to the renovation and so they’re all gone as well. The lower levels where the rare books and manuscripts are do not appear to be on fire, but the fire in the reading room keeps flaring up so they can’t get down to check. There’s almost certainly going to be water damage, but hopefully the compactus will have protected some of it.”

In a City of Cape Town media release, Mayor Plato confirmed that at least one firefighter is still being treated for burn wounds in hospital; and that property, including private homes, the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and historical structures such as the Mostert’s Hill windmill have been damaged by the blaze.

Students from the Upper Campus of the University of Cape Town also had to be evacuated as strong winds caused the fire to spread. Four thousand UCT students were tonight fed by the Gift of the Givers.

Mayor Plato visited the site to thank those involved in firefighting efforts. He said:

“I wish to express our gratitude for the efforts of firefighters who have been working non-stop to bring this massive fire under control… Our attention and support remains with firefighters and all roleplayers working to protect further loss of property.”


UCT Executive Director, Ujala Satgoor, confirms that the disaster struck at the heart of the university’s library.

“I write this message with a deep sense of sorrow and loss at the havoc and devastation it wrought upon the Reading Room of the Jagger Library.

“As some of us watched, from on-site, with horror and helplessness this elegant and historical library burn, I can only imagine the shock and horror you must have felt as you watched the news reports and pictures of this destruction.”

Satgoor said the Reading Room is completely gutted, while the fire detection system managed to trigger the fire shutters, thereby preventing the spread to other parts of the library.

“Some of our valuable collections have been lost. However, a full assessment can only be done once the building has been declared safe and we can enter the building. An official statement is forthcoming and until such time “I request that individuals refrain from speculation and conjecture.”