In response to the devastating fire at UCT’s Special Collections Library on 18 April 2021, the APC received numerous enquiries from concerned researchers. This prompted us to set up a space on our website to provide updates directly from those responsible.

As we indicated previously, we were doing this initially as an interim measure, to keep the archive and history community abreast of whatever we could, while the Library put in place their own communication and volunteering channels. As the Library’s channels are now fully functioning, please refer all queries, offers of assistance, volunteering and support to the appropriate Library channels: 

There is a dedicated Jagger Library Recovery page:

Through this page, you can sign up for daily volunteering slots via dedicated forms.

You can also send your offers of assistance to the Library directly:

In addition, you can share your Jagger Library Memories ( and send a message of support (

You can also follow the Special Collections recovery efforts through their Memory@UCT Blog (

If you have any specific queries or suggestions that are not Library-specific and relate more broadly to APC themes, you are welcome to contact Dr. Susana Molins Lliteras on our dedicated email address

Message from Jagger Recovery Team:

Dear Volunteer

We want to thank you once again for joining us in the past few weeks at the Jagger Library Recovery Project. We made incredible progress in rescuing items out of the Jagger Library, and this would not have been possible without you.

As we move forward in the next part of the recovery, we will be asking for more volunteers to assist with the clean-up and organisation of the items that were rescued.

Tomorrow, 11 May, we are looking for volunteers to work in three and half hour shifts to assist with the rewrapping of materials. Volunteers need to be meticulous, pay attention to detail, work in a team, work speedily but correctly. And be able to lift crates.

Please sign up for one of the sessions at

Session 1 at 8:30 :

Session 2 at 11:30:

Session 3 at 14:30:

If you have the time and are willing to assist, we would really appreciate your further assistance.

Jagger Recovery Team


Dear All,

The UCT Library urgently needs volunteers to help assist with the salvage operation. This need has intensified with the rain and will probably continue for the next few weeks.

If you are able to assist, please register here:

In the interest of safety amid rising numbers, please follow strict COVID protocols:

1. Before the session: 

Please do NOT volunteer if, 

 - You have any Covid-like symptoms, however mild. You could be putting others at risk.

 - You have had contact with anyone who tested positive for Covid in the past 10 days or who has possible Covid symptoms. If in any doubt, call your doctor or the provincial hotline to check.

2. After the session: 

 - If you have any Covid-like symptoms, however minor, in the 3 days following your session, please arrange to have a Covid test, informing the health professional you have recently worked in the library recovery team.

 - If you have a positive Covid test within 10 days of your shift, please check with your doctor or clinic if you might have already been infected at the time of your session, and if so, advise library staff so that others on the same shift can be alerted. 


Kind regards,

Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative

University of Cape Town

Tel: +27 21 650 4013


UCT Library can use your help this weekend

If you’re looking for weekend activities:

UCT is looking for volunteers for this weekend - retrieving archival collections from the basement of Jagger. Here’s the form for volunteers. (There is urgency involved as the basement was ankle deep in water, and 4500 crates of archival records have to be retrieved and conserved.)

  • 23 April, Links and Twitter Handles for the UCT library

    UCT Library Homepages

    UCT Library Twitter Handles and Hashtags




    #JaggerLibrary - support page to send a message of support, offer assistance or follow their recovery efforts.

    #JaggerLibraryMemories to share your memories with the library or use the form on the page


Message from Clive Kirkwood (Archivist) on behalf of Special Collections of UCT Libraries, which incorporates Primary Collections and Published Collections including the African Studies Library, Government Publications and Rare Books, for the CCA Session Mourning the Loss of the African Studies Library and Archive, 23 April 2021

The staff of Special Collections are grateful to the CCA for providing the opportunity today for reflection on the loss of unique research resources in the devastating fire in the Jagger Library on Sunday 18 April, and indeed for the outpouring of expressions of solidarity and support.

Given the risks of involved, the building could only be entered from Tuesday 20 April for an initial assessment of damage and to begin a disaster recovery process. Professional disaster management specialists and conservation experts needed then to be deployed speedily to oversee disaster recovery in terms of the disaster recovery plan, as such recovery is time-sensitive and of the greatest urgency. This is our immediate and highest priority: to ensure that resources which did not succumb to the blaze are speedily removed from the risk of water damage and treated. Indeed, a team of librarians, archivists and conservators was mobilized to work late into last night to assist in removing all the extensive remaining resources from the Jagger Library so that assessment and triage can carried out on the most vulnerable material. I can confirm that the first archival collection moved to a safe location was the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, inscribed as it is in UNESCO’s Register of the Memory of the World. And happily I can further confirm that the priceless collection is intact and has not sustained damage.

As Special Collections staff need to focus all our energy on speedy disaster recovery, we are not able to take an active part in today’s event. While the tangible and intangible support being shown from all over the world gives us encouragement for the task of rebuilding to enable Special Collections to rise from the ashes, we would like respectfully to request to be given space and time to focus on the most urgent steps in disaster recovery followed by assessment.

We are nevertheless facilitating a means of public communication and participation. A web portal will shortly be available enabling anyone to post messages of support and offers of assistance, as well as reflections on and memories of the Jagger Library, including photographs. In the same portal, staff are already logging messages received directly of support and offers of help of various kinds; and keeping a record of related articles, and social media posts. One of the purposes envisaged is to create a commemorative website, with the consent of contributors. We have noted with appreciation that the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative has created a space on their website make accessible online links on updates and information resources about developments following the Jagger Library fire.

One of the immediate concerns of creators and donors of collections and their families, and scholars and researchers with a deep interest in particular fields, is to establish whether this material has survived and we are receiving numerous such requests. While we have determined which sections of the holdings were destroyed in the fire, given the urgency of disaster recovery, a full assessment of individual collections is not possible yet. We are explaining this to inquirers and recording each such inquiry for follow up when it becomes possible. The protocol that will be followed in such inquiries is that status reports will in the first instance be made available to the creator or donor or their families. A generic email address is available for status inquiries or related communications:

We are aware of initiatives that are seeking to gather information on copies of material in Special Collections that researchers may have made and could contribute. We welcome the willingness of the research community to be involved and contribute, but we do have some concerns. The recovery and assessment process would need to take place before gaps in the holdings are determined. Coordination of such a replacement digital resource would need a project in its own right. And it is uncertain whether the content and structure of the information being gathered would in fact be adequate. We will therefore seek to make contact and engage with such initiatives.       

The email from the Vice-Chancellor’s Desk of 21 April “Recognising the loss of the Jagger Reading Room” provided a synoptic overview of the extent of destruction and the areas that may be affected by residual water damage. While we mourn the loss and damage of much material, some of which is irreplaceable, I am also able to convey more positive news that has been established in the past day or two. And this is that overall, the degree of destruction and water damage is not as great as we had feared watching the conflagration. Some library storage areas adjacent to the reading room were not penetrated by the fire, nor were the largest storage areas in the two basement and interspace levels of the building. Much water did seep through the basement levels to settle at the lowest level and had to be pumped out. This is the area in which audiovisual and contemporary photographic archives are stored. Inevitably there will be a degree of water damage in particular collections which we are urgently seeking to mitigate. A particular concern is collections of architectural drawings. We are hopeful however that overall a much higher percentage of the unique collections of audiovisual and photographic archives as well as paper-based manuscripts will remain undamaged.

The African Studies Library book stock that we think was not affected by the fire includes a large book store housing most of the books catalogued as Afrikaans literature, African literature and history. There has however been extensive water damage and due to the location of this book stock directly behind the Jagger Reading room we have not been able to gain access and assess. The area of the Library where the art, architecture and English literature books were shelved was undamaged by the fire and has not had water damage but we do need to remove it from the building as soon as possible. This area also housed some of the oldest Government Publications.  Also remaining unscathed are the full holdings of South African and African periodicals. The Rare Books section too may have suffered less or minimal water damage, but will have to be removed from the Basement store as a matter of urgency to prevent any damage.

In establishing a full picture of the extent of loss and survival within the holdings, we should mention that in addition to the Jagger Library, Special Collections maintains several off-site archival stores in which both primary and published material are housed, which are unaffected. This includes the holdings of older, often rare, African Studies books as well as pamphlets, that are considered archival in nature, the entire hardcopy thesis collection of UCT, the back issues of the newspaper titles that Special Collections retains either permanently or for a five-year timeframe, and some government publications. Collectively these stores also house some 60% of the paper-based manuscript archival holdings.

However, it is so that the most heavily used and precious Special Collections holdings are or were kept in the Jagger Library. The destruction caused by the fire to the reading room that had been beautifully restored in 2012 and surrounding staff spaces and galleries was total, including the original furnishing from the 1930s and modern equipment and computers. Some of the losses of information resources are irreparable. As an  archivist, I am distressed by the loss of the institutional records related to the donation and administrative history each individual archival collection. A database recording the essential information had fortunately nearly been completed. Archival collections that my colleagues and I had completed processing at home under lockdown and had recently returned to the library, were destroyed or damaged. Nevertheless, it is a great consolation that a substantial part of the overall holdings remains unscathed.

UCT Libraries is encouraged and strengthened by the support shown to enable us to embark on the tasks of recovery, assessment and rebuilding of Special Collections to fulfil its mission as a leading repository of African research resources. Thank you.                        


Following the devastating loss of the African Studies Library, the Centre for Curating the Archive is organising an online session for Friday 23 April, 1pm-3pm, in order to take stock, process and share grief around the loss of the African Studies Library and its collections.

Please see

Zoom link:


African Studies Book Collection:

Special Collections include the significant African Studies collections of published monographs and pamphlets, as well as a rare book collection and several specialist collections. Previously housed in the African Studies Library, founded in 1953, the African Studies collections consist of approximately 65 000 volumes, including up-to-date materials as well as works on Africa and South Africa printed before 1925, and many hard-to-find volumes in a wide range of  African and European languages. The collections cover the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and include national imprints from all over Africa as well as works published in Europe and North America. The collections are especially strong in gender studies, media studies, HIV/AIDS issues, and debates around the character of African studies as a discipline. There is an important collection on Southern African languages, donated to the university in the 1950s, which included religious texts and school textbooks as well as dictionaries and grammars. Some of the titles in these collections, published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were extremely rare.

The extent of the loss is still being assessed but the Library confirms that the stock catalogued as African, Afrikaans and English literature, history, and art and architecture , as well as the rare book collection, was not affected by the fire, but urgently needs to be removed to prevent and assess water damage.


Dear colleagues and students

As many of you know the Jagger Reading Room was destroyed by the Table Mountain fire on Sunday, 18 April

The JW Jagger Library (now the Jagger Reading Room) was named after a major benefactor of the University of Cape Town (UCT) Libraries in the early twentieth century. The building was constructed in the 1930s and served originally as the main library, then as a short loans centre and from 2000 to 2011 as the reading room of the African Studies Library. In 2011 the university began a restoration programme to restore the main hall of the Jagger Library to its original condition. This project was undertaken in two phases: first, the stripping away of walkways and balconies added in the 1960s and 1970s, and second, the painting, furnishing and restoration of original features.

UCT Libraries Special Collections comprises the African Studies Collection, Maps, Rare and Antiquarian books, Film and Video Collections, Newspapers, Journals and Magazines, Pamphlets and Ephemera, Manuscripts, and Photographs and Images. These collections are housed in the Jagger Reading Room and various other sites across UCT.

The Jagger Reading Room was home to the significant African Studies Collection, which was started in 1953. This collection of approximately 70 000 published monographs spanned the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and included national imprints from the entire continent as well as works published in Europe and North America. The collections were especially strong in gender studies, media studies, HIV/AIDS issues, and debates around the character of African studies as a discipline. There was an important collection on Southern African languages, donated to the university in the 1950s, which included religious texts and school textbooks as well as dictionaries and grammars. Some of the titles in these collections, published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were extremely rare.

Extent of destruction

The fire destroyed the Jagger Reading Room, gutting its roof and destroying the galleries, adjacent stores and offices. The team at UCT Libraries can confirm the archival and published print collections kept within the Reading Room were consumed by the flames. These include the vast majority of the African Studies Published Print Collection (approximately 70 000 items), the entire African Studies Film Collection on DVD (approximately 3 500), all the UCT university calendars, some of the heavily used Government Publications documents from South Africa and across the continent, and manuscripts and archives kept in the Reading Room for processing or digitisation or awaiting transfer after being digitised. A significant institutional loss is the original card catalogues for the Manuscripts and Archives repositories, the history of UCT Libraries, and the Special Collections Archive Office and administrative records.

While a mapping exercise has identified materials, a full assessment of this destruction can only happen once the building is declared safe and staff are permitted on site. A list will eventually be made available once donors and owners of collections entrusted to UCT Libraries are informed.

Residual damage

The libraries team anticipates residual damage due to the flooding of the building and possible seepage into the various spaces and two basement stores. These areas house part of the African Studies Collection; the Pamphlet Collections; the African Studies Poster Collection; Rare and Antiquarian Books; primary source materials, including the Manuscripts and Archives repository; the Modern Photography Prints; the All Things UCT Collection, which includes photographs, news clippings, periodicals and publications related to the history of the university; and the Architectural Collections, which includes most oversized architectural drawings. The team members will not know the full extent of the residual damage for a while.

I would like to acknowledge:

  • the prompt and coordinated efforts of the various UCT Properties and Services teams with the Libraries Facilities team
  • the City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue teams for all their efforts to control the fire and contain further damage to the Jagger Reading Room
  • the outpouring of sorrow and commiseration, the messages of support and offers of assistance from both national entities and international institutions for crisis conservation and library disaster recovery efforts. UCT will certainly call upon them to be a part of this recovery process.

Sunday was a sad day for UCT and UCT Libraries. This loss will be felt deeply across our community as the libraries are so critical to all of us. We cannot replace the treasures of scholarship we have lost, but we can create new treasures out of our own scholarship. In the same way, each of us can rebuild our own sense of purpose out of this tragedy. Our colleagues in the libraries have a long road ahead of them and many of us feel the devastation of the loss of this significant institutional asset but we will walk this road to rebuild our facilities together.

Yours sincerely

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng


In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Maha Rafi Atal, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Copenhagen Business School, took an initiative to establish a registry of copies of Special Collections materials that researchers have amongst their research materials.  She is collecting the information online:

She notes: “In light of the fire at the University of Cape Town on April 18th, academics and other researchers around the world who have worked in these special collections and have taken photocopies or mobile phone images of documents may be able to contribute these to help recover some of the lost records. Please fill in the form one time for each document you have. The results will be collated by Dr Maha Rafi Atal, Copenhagen Business School, and passed to UCT.” 

The form asks for: the name of the document or item the person has, the format of the image (e.g. mobile phone, photocopy), the record from the library’s catalogue to aid in matching the records later, and contact information for the library to reach the contributor. The results go into a spreadsheet.

Dr. Atal has written to us to indicate that she will deposit the spreadsheet in the Library whenever the Library is ready to receive it. The Library can then more slowly mine it for material for reconstitution projects over time. We have passed on this commitment to the relevant librarians.

We are aware that many people have already responded to this initiative and we are grateful to all who have combed through their research matter. 

In the meantime, at the Special Collections library, the upliftment of water damaged materials commences today,  21 April, 2021.



Initial indications are that there is water in the Special Collections basements. The Bleek and Lloyd Collection is safe though certain photographs by Dorothea Bleek which were being worked on in Reading Room are likely lost. Fortuitously these had been digitized.  See The upliftment of water damaged materials begins tomorrow.


20 April, 2021: DVC for Research & Internationalisation, Professor Sue Harrison has confirmed that part of the Pearson Building (Biological Sciences, UCT) was also damaged, but that the historic Bolus collection (, which is housed there, is intact. The Bolus Herbarium, established in 1865, is the oldest functioning herbarium in South Africa. As part of an academic institution, its primary function is to aid in the teaching and research of the diversity of the southern African flora, particularly that of the Cape Floristic Region. Research associated with the herbarium focuses mainly on taxonomy, systematics, biogeography and endemism. With a collection of over 350,000 specimens, it is the third largest herbarium in South Africa and the third largest university Herbarium in the southern Hemisphere. The collection is recognized for its superb representation of the Cape Flora and the large number of type specimens housed. Prof Harrison noted further that the damage to the building and the need to preserve this important collection can be expected to affect Biological Sciences and related research.


At this stage, the latest available information is an early statement from Ujala Satgoor, Executive Director of the UCT’s Libraries. Please see below: