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In South Africa, mourning and tears after the Cape Town library fire


The establishment was devastated by flames on Sunday evening. The Jagger Reading Room was reduced to ashes, but some areas of the building may have been preserved.

It was not a simple library.

The elegant reading room of the University of Cape Town, destroyed by a fleeting and terrifying fire, has inspired, educated and dreamed of thousands of students and researchers with its unique collection of African documents.

The images of bright orange flames, Sunday evening April 18, engulfing the neoclassical building with huge stone columns, circulated across the continent and mourned many African intellectuals and beyond, for whom the library was a landmark, almost a place of worship.

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“All sore, broken heart. Looking at the pictures of the burning library freaks me out. My brain was shaped in this institution, ”

wrote South African geographer Paballo Chauke, also an Oxford graduate, on Twitter.

"In 2002, I had the opportunity to study there for a year and it shaped the course of my life,"

tweets London-based anthropologist Marissa Mika, who says her

"sorrow for all that has been lost ”


Others mourn this place which contained

"the oldest, the rarest books on Africa"


"Our collection of African studies lost in the fire can never be replaced"

, soberly observes the DKIS department of the prestigious university, a postgraduate program for future librarians or data managers.

The stripped-down Jagger Reading Room with towering ceilings, built in the 1930s, was devastated by fire that swept down from the hills above the university.

But some areas of the library, containing the most valuable documents, could have been protected by the automatic closing of fire walls, the city explained on Sunday.

The inventory, started on Tuesday, remains to be completed.

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"The heart of the university"

It contained a unique collection of documents on Africa: more than 85,000 books and pamphlets, some 3,500 African films, valuable documents on the pre-colonial history of South Africa and more recent government records, according to the management. from the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“The library is the heart of the university.

This is the university itself, ”

laments Divine Fuh, director of the university's Institute of Humanities, adding:

“ When you watch this place blaze, you die. ”

"We live in a world where African knowledge has been devalued for years, centuries ... Giving it value in a space where people can really get involved is symbolically strong"

, explains the anthropologist. to AFP.

Firefighters walking through the rubble of the library.


The library housed history, but was also intimately involved in it.

June Bam-Hutchison, who heads the unit of the Khoi and San peoples, the first inhabitants of South Africa, in the department of African studies, remembers having had to apply for a special authorization under the apartheid regime, to consult certain documents.

"This library allowed me to assert myself, to have a feeling of belonging, because I could find things that linked me to this land"

, she confides.

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The documents opened her eyes to African intellectuals who came before her, she says, but also to the history of the continent's indigenous peoples before first contact with Europeans.

She encouraged her students to delve into these archives, to deepen their knowledge but also to find this inspiration.

Some documents are digitized, but

"something special is happening when you can see them, touch them"


While the library still smokes in places, its staff have started to assess what has been lost or could be saved, said Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, UCT's vice-chancellor.

“It's a huge loss, but we'll get over it,”

she vowed, wishful thinking.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2021-04-20

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