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University of Cape Town Fund Inc.
201 Allen St Unit #10019, New York, NY 10002

UCT Fire Disaster

Please donate generously to the Fire Relief Fund

On Sunday 18 April, a fire started on the mountain near Rhodes Memorial adjacent to the University of Cape Town (UCT).  Fanned by strong winds blowing in the direction of our main campus, the fire spread over the course of the morning and afternoon to various locations on UCT’s Upper and Middle Campus.  By late afternoon, the fire had spread to Upper and Middle Campus, destroying UCT’s Jagger Library Reading Room, and causing severe damage to both Fuller and Smuts Hall residences. 

With winds dropping late in the afternoon, the fire was brought under control on campus, although it continued to burn at various points across the mountainside surrounding UCT and in the direction of the city during the course of the night.  

All academic activities have been suspended for the duration of the week following the fire, and UCT will resume its academic programme on Monday 26 April. 

During Monday 19 April, UCT emergency teams assessed student needs at all locations where students are being housed temporarily. An emergency assessment team also inspected the campus to ascertain the extent of damages to buildings and to put in place provisional plans for the resumption of classes and relocation of students back into accommodation. 

Short-term: Looking after our evacuated students

All students who were evacuated from residences on Sunday and who required emergency accommodation have been placed in temporary accommodation that is compliant with UCT’s COVID-19 requirements. As at 20 April, we have 3,467 students at 35 hotels across Cape Town. 

Gift of the Givers is providing food to these students while they are in emergency accommodation.

Medium-term: Our students’ safe return to campus 

UCT has also been establishing the extent of damages and is formulating a post-emergency plan for the rehabilitation of campus building destroyed and damaged in the blaze that swept the university on Sunday 18 April. 

We confirm that two residences, Fuller and Smuts Hall, have been damaged by fire and will not be habitable for coming months while structural repair are undertaken. 

While our goal is to return all students to residence accommodation as soon as possible, our students’ health and safety remain our top priority:

  • Residences will need to undergo thorough cleaning to remove soot and other residue from the fire. Thereafter they will be inspected for health and safety, with particular attention being paid to the risk of residual smoke inhalation. Following this, students can return to residences not damaged directly by the fire. 
  • During this phase we will need to ensure that students are safely transported back to their reses and that full COVID-19 prevention protocols are adhered to at all times. 
  • We are currently putting in place arrangements for alternative residential accommodation for the 420 Fuller and Smuts Hall students for the duration of the renovation of their residences, as well as ensuring that funds are in place to cover such accommodation and all related needs that students will have to engage fully in academic and social activities. 
  • We will also be ensuring that a tailored wellness programme is available to all of these relocated students to address their emotional and physical health needs. 

Long-term: Rehabilitation and reconstruction

With damage to a number of campus buildings, our current focus is on assessment thereof and the development of a rehabilitation plan. A major focus will be our Jagger Library Reading Room, which was completely gutted by the fire. The loss of precious irreplaceable collections held in the library is devastating. Structural damages are currently estimated to run into tens of millions. 

Exact plans for this rehabilitation are unfolding and will be determined over the coming days and weeks. 

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