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South Africa: Table Mountain wildfire tears through Cape Town university library

‘These are all tragic heritage losses’, local official says as thousands of artefacts of African history caught in blaze

Vincent Wood
Monday 19 April 2021 11:42 BST
Table Mountain wildfire tears through Cape Town university library

A raging wildfire spreading across the slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain has torched a university library and forced the evacuation of students from the area.

Images from the scene showed the hollowed out charred remains of the University of Capetown’s Jagger library, which held thousands of original artefacts of African history as part of its Special Collections library.

At least two floors of the building were burned in the fire, according to local news reports. Other campus buildings, and a historic windmill nearby, were also reported to have burned.

The University said on Twitter that “all UCT students have been evacuated from campus by emergency services support staff”.

So far two firefighters have been hospitalised after working on the blaze, the Times of South Africa reported citing City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith.

“The critical thing is that there haven’t been any reports of loss of life which points to the sterling work that our emergency services are doing”, he said. “They have been working around the clock to evacuate people and put out the fire.

“Tragically we have lost the Mostert Mill, which was built in 1796 and was the oldest surviving working windmill in SA as well as four thatched roof houses behind it. It is irreplaceable.

“I understand that there is another building that has gutted on the UCT campus and now we have heard about the library. These are all tragic heritage losses.”

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the UK’s foreign select committee, wrote on Twitter: “This is a tragedy for humanity. The study of African history is hugely important and often ignored.

“It’s rich and varied from Great Zimbabwe to the Fulani empire and yet it’s too often treated as one.”

More than 100 firefighters and emergency personnel have worked to tackle the fires, which have spread across dry brush on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Cape Town media reported part of the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant had also caught fire as helicopters were deployed to douse the flames around threatened areas.

Residents have been cautioned to be on alert, Charlotte Powell, spokeswoman for the city’s disaster risk management center, said in a statement.

“At this stage, there’s no cause to evacuate, but we ask that residents adhere to the following: close all windows to prevent draft and reduce heat, damp down your garden using a hose or irrigation system,” Ms Powell said.

Additional reporting by AP

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