A part of our heritage soul was consumed by the fire in Cape Town

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Firefighters battle the blaze at the HM Pearson, Fuller and Jagger Library buildings at the University of Cape Town’s Rondebosch campus on Sunday 18 April.
Firefighters battle the blaze at the HM Pearson, Fuller and Jagger Library buildings at the University of Cape Town’s Rondebosch campus on Sunday 18 April.

As human beings we are rightly shocked and mourn loss of life and this will always be our primary response when disaster hits, but coming second is also a profound sense of loss and grief that we can feel when there is irretrievable loss of tangible heritage and legacy left by those who came before us and the wiping out of tangible markers of events that were of great importance to humanity's past. We also hurt and mourn when large chunks of our own life and legacy go up in smoke and are reduced to ashes.

Thus, when I saw and heard of the demise, in the raging fire, of the Jagger Library and in particular, the African Studies Library at the University of Cape Town, I was brought to tears.

During my exile over 14 years, I served as a litho-printer in the liberation movement press and on the editorial boards of some of the journals of four liberation formations – the ANC, SACP, Sactu, and MK. After each print run, other than what went into the official archives, I kept one item for my own printer's archive. These included our underground distributed materials, policy materials, and materials for our global diplomatic and international supporters as well as eight titles of our journals and periodicals. I collected around 1 500 of these items, representing 14 years of history from when I started printing in Botswana, then from our press in Zambia, and our press (the first one of which was blown up by a bomb) in London. There also were two copies of the free newspapers, Young Voice and New Voice which I started in Cape Town in 1977 and were each consecutively banned.

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