Cape Town fire update: Mop-up operations underway, students receive local support

For bystanders, it may seem as if Cape Town is getting back to normal as several roads that were closed since Sunday reopened and the dense layer of smoke covering the Mother City dissipated. 

But the Rhodes Memorial fire has left a path of devastation with clean-up operations and assessments of the full extent of the fire still to take place.

The City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management Centre (DRMC) has deployed various departments to initiate repairs to roads and city infrastructure damaged as a result of the three-day fire. 

“Solid waste management has been activated to clear the fire debris. The electricity department has advised no major damage has occurred, however, the overhead lines to affected buildings have been damaged,” said DRMC’s Charlotte Powell. 

“Meanwhile, the environmental health service is doing ongoing water sampling at the Molteno Reservoir to ensure that any ash from the fire does not affect the water quality.” 

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde told media at the central fire station in Roeland Street on Tuesday afternoon that “large parts of the fire have been contained” and thanked “the tireless efforts” made by the city, the Table Mountain National Park, Working on Fire, and Volunteer Wildfire Services, as well as the South African National Defence Force. 

It has now been confirmed that a total of 11 structures were damaged or destroyed over the past three days. This includes two residential structures in the Rosebank area — including state-owned residential property — six education buildings on the Rondebosch campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT), two heritage buildings including the Mostert’s Mill and UCT’s Jagger Reading Room, and the Rhodes Memorial tea room. 

During his visit to the fire station, Winde paid tribute to the 15 people who were injured during the fire. 

“A total of six firefighters were injured in the line of duty and a further nine civilians were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation. I wish all firefighters and civilians a speedy recovery,” Winde said. 

He added that the immediate priority was to fully extinguish all fire lines, while firefighters continue to monitor possible flare-ups and dampen fire-affected areas. 

Spirit of ubuntu 

The three-day-old disaster response centre at the Old Mutual West Campus is fully operational. The centre is welcoming any donations from companies and individuals to assist 4 000 affected students from the UCT campus and, as of Tuesday, about 230 students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). 

The UCT Rondebosch campus evacuated about 4 000 students from residences on Sunday before placing them at temporary accommodation sites across Cape Town. 

After initially suspending academic activities on campus until Tuesday, UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng announced a further halt to the university’s academic programme until Monday 26 April. 

Students are not yet back at the campus, and the disaster response centre is co-ordinating the delivery of large amounts of donations from across Cape Town to affected students. The centre is providing breakfast, lunch and dinner to affected students.  

Ali Sablay, the project manager for Gift of the Givers, said the nonprofit organisation was distributing meals to 29 different destinations. 

Sablay said numerous corporates and individuals had come on board to assist the response centre, which he described as “phenomenal” and reflective of  “the unique ubuntu spirit of South Africa”.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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