Mostert’s Mill rises from the ashes while UCT library gutted by fire remains deserted

Little progress has been made restoring Jagger Library and other torched buildings

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Top photo: Mostert’s Mill has been restored after the fire of April 2021. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
Bottom photo: Mostert’s Mill was gutted by the fire. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

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

Mostert’s Mill is one of several historical buildings damaged by the fire. Others include De Meule (managed by the Department of Public Works), the house behind the mill, Cadboll House, which housed some of UCT’s administrative offices before the fire, and the Rhodes Memorial restaurant (managed by SANParks). UCT’s Jagger Library, home to the African Studies collection and archives, was also gutted by the fire.

Little progress has been made in restoring the other torched buildings, which still stand deserted. 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 driven 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.

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 and no construction activity is taking place.

The Jagger Library is boarded up. Photos: 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 UCT’s Futures Thinktank. 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 members wanted the buildings restored to their original state as quickly as possible. In contrast, others saw it as an opportunity to optimize 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 is 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 Jagger 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.

Update on 2023-03-06 13:23

The headline was changed to replace "buildings" by "library" after publication.

TOPICS:  Fire Tertiary Education

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