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DStv and UCT Rewrite History With Ashes And Remnants Of The Burnt Library

  • 4 min read

18 April 2021 was one of the saddest days in the history of the University of Cape Town. The world watched as the Table Mountain runaway fire destroyed sections of the campus, including the Jagger Library, which housed the Special Collections held by the university, including what was likely one of the leading collections of African stories.

The Jagger Reading Room was destroyed, along with its priceless and largely irreplaceable contents, including two thirds of the African Studies Library, books, films, and pamphlets, as well as historic African government publications, manuscripts and archives held in the Reading Room. This left one of the continent’s most prestigious African Studies libraries in ashes. But not all was lost.

While initially this was a consideration, librarians and archivists who worked out of that building quickly swung into action with a historic disaster management project to salvage and recover everything from the extensive basements that had been spared destruction from the fire. This involved an unprecedented salvage operation, involving corporates, non-profit organisations, trained experts, generous neighbours, parents and donors, alumni and

former staff who gave of their time, money, emotional support, expertise, and various other means of support to help us recover and rebuild what was lost.

Since the fire, UCT and DStv Africa – as the largest producer of stories in the continent –

have embarked on a journey to resurrect the stories lost in the fire for the benefit of the next generation. “We as a business are thrilled to be a part of this project, for us storytelling is a key element that helps us share and shape human experiences. Being in the business of storytelling, many of which start off as a book, a note or an essay, rebuilding the UCT library means enhancing the lengths through which our stories can be told, they can grow and be stored for future generations to learn,” says Nondumiso Mabece – Head of Consumer Marketing & PR at DStv Africa.

DStv collected five tonnes of ashes and remnants from the burnt stacks of African Studies literature in the Jagger Library. Working with specialists, we able to turn the ash into a unique ink to write new stories, and to also create a first book worthy to be placed in the newly refurbished library. We collaborated with some of Africa’s finest storytellers, to begin our journey of helping to rewrite this lost history.

The Stories From the Ashes – Africa’s Story Through the Last Millennium includes visuals and reprinted extracts – tackling different subjects such as African History & Identity, Politics,

Gender and Identity, Performing Arts, Literature, Language and Linguistics, African Youth, Migration and the African Diaspora, Environment and Climate – from surviving African

Literature in the Special Collections Library, as well as personal reflections by distinguished UCT alumni, including Justice Albie Sachs, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Nkosinathi Biko,

Prof. Timm Hoffman, Prof. Joan Hambidge, Prof. June Bam-Hutchinson, Carl Manlan and Musa Ngqungwana.

This book has been made entirely from remnants and ashes taken from the Jagger Library. It serves as a reminder of our commitment to rebuilding what was lost for future generations and outlines the rich legacy of Africa’s stories through the millennium. We will rise from the ashes through our stories.

UCT Libraries’ executive director Ujala Satgoor said: “Working with DStv has been a creative and fulfilling experience. While we still have some way to go in terms of rebuilding the physical structure and space of the Jagger Library, this partnership, process and project has again as in April 2021 shown that with collaboration and creativity much can be salvaged, achieved and rebuilt in our beautiful country. As a memorial to the fire, this special book will forever form part of the new story of the Jagger Library, the story of literally and figuratively rebuilding from the ash.”

You too can contribute towards the rebuilding of the library or find out more about the #StoriesFromTheAshes project by visiting the website: