South Africa


Mostert’s Mill rises from the ashes while UCT buildings gutted by fire remain deserted

Mostert’s Mill rises from the ashes while UCT buildings gutted by fire remain deserted
Mostert’s Mill has been restored after the fire of April 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Little progress has been made in restoring the University of Cape Town’s Jagger Library and other buildings razed in fires almost two years ago.

The restoration of Mostert’s Mill, the iconic 200-year-old windmill destroyed by a Table Mountain fire on 18 April 2021, is almost complete. The project took a big step forward on Wednesday when the windmill’s sails were fitted.

Mostert’s Mill was one of several historical buildings damaged by the wildfire. Others included De Meule, the house behind the mill, Cadboll House, which housed some of UCT’s administrative offices, and the Rhodes Memorial restaurant. The university’s Jagger Library, home to the African Studies collection and archives, was also gutted.

Little progress has been made in restoring the damaged buildings, which still stand empty. The future of Jagger Library, arguably one of the most important heritage sites in the country, is still being “reimagined” by UCT.

The restoration of the windmill, which was the last working wheat windmill in Africa until the fire destroyed it, was undertaken by the Friends of Mostert’s Mill, a citizen-led non-profit organisation that has looked after the mill for 25 years.

“Rebuilding an ancient windmill is an interesting process,” says John Hammer, chairperson of Friends of Mostert’s Mill.

Donations from residents and the Rupert family funded the effort. Skilled craftsmen were contracted to do most of the specialised work, supported by volunteers. Milling experts from the Netherlands were consulted and the sail cloths and refurbished mill stones are being imported from there.

Mostert’s Mill was gutted by the fire. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

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Jagger’s ‘reimagining’

UCT did not respond to GroundUp’s questions on the current status of the Jagger Library. There are two main projects: rebuilding the library building and conserving the books and archives that survived the fire.

When GroundUp visited the Jagger Library last week, it was boarded up with no construction activity taking place.

The Jagger Library. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

The Jagger Library is boarded up. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

This is what the inside of Jagger Library looked like immediately after the fire. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

In July last year, we reported that UCT was “reimagining” the future of the Jagger Library building through a public participation process led by the university’s Futures Think Tank. At the time of our report, the insurance on the library had not yet been paid out in full.

During the participation process, it emerged that some UCT staff wanted the buildings restored to their original state as quickly as possible. In contrast, others saw it as an opportunity to optimise how the space is used, particularly in the context of transformation at UCT and how libraries are modernising globally.

In emails from August last year, leaked to GroundUp, senior researchers at UCT lamented that they had not been sufficiently consulted and that the slowness of the process was negatively impacting the ability to do research.

The researchers, who appeared to be sympathetic to the cause of transformation, were concerned that the functional role of the Jagger Library was being neglected.

Before it was destroyed, the reading room in the Jagger library was crucial to research as it enabled students and researchers to physically study archival material. In the leaked emails, researchers expressed concern that this function of the Jagger Library was not being prioritised in the “reimagining” process.

GroundUp previously reported that the archives would take years to restore. Archival material was rescued from the burnt and flooded basement of the library. A dedicated team is sifting through these materials and rebuilding the archive piece by piece in its temporary location in Mowbray.

This process is slow and time-consuming. Community Media Trust’s (CMT) expansive archive of filmed material from the struggle for HIV treatment was housed at UCT (GroundUp used to be a project of CMT). But CMT has not had official confirmation of the status of the archive and it remains unclear how much of the archive survived the fire.

GroundUp understands that, where possible, students and researchers at UCT are being granted access to archival material and books from the African Studies collections. DM

This article was originally published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    It’s a stark comparison of what can be achieved without a useless government in the way. If one stands on the freeway going past UCT near this beautifully restored monument and look up the mountain to where the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant used to be, one understands how totally useless SANParks is. I mean, surely the building on the property they manage was insured??? Or nor? Tourists used to flock there. So from a business point of view there should be no problem in raising the capital. But it looks like this is even further behind the UCT think tank which was at thinking about it.

  • Ed Rybicki says:

    There’s a number of us at UCT who are a little bemused about who or what the Futures Think Tank at UCT is. There has been a recent history of groups being convened to compile things like the “Vision 2030”, which aside from semi-consistently misspelling Africa as “Afrika”, appeared to ignore research as a major part of UCT’s enterprises – because they didn’t involve UCT’s most senior researchers. Then hearing about ideas being flighted like converting the burnt out library as a lawn with Lego blocks to play with…🤨 Sounds like they really let the children out to play!

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