“Let it burn to the ground.”
This remark, posted on Twitter by a user claiming to be a student representative council secretary-general at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), is being investigated by the university. This was announced by UWC council chairperson Yasmin Forbes on Tuesday afternoon.
The suspect made the remark amid the runaway fires that destroyed some of the historic buildings at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and other iconic sites in Cape Town.
It is believed that the fire started near Rhodes Memorial, on the northern flank of Table Mountain, on Sunday morning.
A 35-year-old man was arrested on Sunday at about 8pm in Philip Kgosana Drive, Cape Town, and has been charged with arson, police announced on Monday, adding that two alleged accomplices were still at large.
As a result of its devastation, UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng announced on Tuesday morning that the academic programme had been suspended until Friday and learning would resume on Monday.
“The assessment of the damages and the need to clean residences and academic buildings means that the academic programme at UCT will be suspended until Friday, April 23. On Wednesday the department of student affairs will start managing the movement of students back to their residences from their emergency accommodation.”
Phakeng said the faculties would each manage the lost week in terms of the curriculum and would communicate with their students about scheduled tests and assignments.
She thanked members of the UCT community and the public for the support offered and hard work put in during this devastating period.
“On behalf of the leadership of UCT, I would like to convey my gratitude for the commitment you have all shown and the help that you are all giving in the interests of the university,” Phakeng said.
What happened at UCT
On Sunday, UCT announced that it had put emergency measures in place to respond to the fire on the Rondebosch campus and emergency accommodation was being arranged for students who had been evacuated from residences.
Donors were also urged to come on board and provide food and other essential items for affected students. An emergency relief fund was set up. It was also announced that counselling was being provided for students and staff.
About the UWC probe
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Forbes condemned in the strongest terms what she said were inflammatory statements, bordering on hate speech, that had been made by the alleged SRC member.
Forbes said that, as council, they had asked UWC’s executive management committee (EMC) to investigate the matter thoroughly and hold the suspect who made the unfortunate remarks to account.
“We trust the rector and vice-chancellor, and the deputy vice-chancellor: Student Development and Support will deal with the matter with necessary due diligence, aligned to the well-established governance protocols and processes at the university.
“The council is pleased that the rector and vice-chancellor, Prof Tyrone Pretorius, and his team made offers to support UCT during this tragic time for our sister institution. We are not competing universities and never have been,” Forbes said.
She said the four universities in the region, including Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, drew strength from their collaboration and partnerships – be it academically or in research endeavours.
“As a council, our thoughts are with Phakeng and her management team, the students and staff of this important institution in South African society. We applaud the efforts of our brave firefighters, the volunteers, all those who made generous donations and the community at large who have been affected by the devastating fires,” she said.
Support for UCT
University of Pretoria (UP) vice-chancellor Professor Tawana Kupe, in a statement issued on behalf of the university’s community on Monday, also offered his support to UCT staff, students and parents.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the UCT community, and I would like to remind its members that we will do everything in our power to assist them. I call on all UP alumni, especially those who are in the vicinity of UCT, to offer their support.
“Assistance can also be provided through the Gift of the Givers Foundation, which has been working with UCT’s management to assist those who have been affected by the fire. Food items, as well as essential personal hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, toilet rolls, sanitary towels, and hand sanitiser, have been requested.
“On behalf of UP, I would like to remind the UCT community that you are not alone in your efforts to recover from this disaster. We are thinking of you during this difficult time and we wish you much strength and wisdom. We know that you will recover and rise again,” Kupe said.
Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande announced on Monday that he had directed Higher Health to work with other emergency relief agencies to offer students debriefing support and that Higher Health’s mobile clinic and psychologists supported the UCT in-house team for psycho-social services to further support students.
Higher Health is an agency of the department of higher education and training that is responsible for promoting the health and wellbeing of students across South Africa’s public universities, and technical and vocational training colleges.
How to help
The UCT Student Representative Council has made a call for donations as displaced students have been without a change of clothing or basic toiletries since Sunday.
Matthew Field, who serves on the SRC, is coordinating donations and says toiletries, clothes, linen, and stationery as well as food and water are most needed.
“The UCT community finds itself in an unprecedented crisis. Circa 4000 students have been forced out of their homes by fire. With only the shirts on their backs, they watched as their beloved library and residences burned,” he says.
Account name: UCT Donations Account
Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa
Branch code: Rondebosch Branch, 025009
Account number: 07 152 2387
Swift code: SBZAZAJJ
Donors were urged to include their name and the purpose or reference for the donation – #UCTFire.