UCT Prof Says Fire Exposed Failings of UCT Management

A Professor at the University of Cape Town says that the fire which caused destruction to parts the of university's campus has exposed the failures of the university's management. 

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Professor Jeremy Seekings, who is a professor of Political Studies and Sociology at the University of Cape Town (UCT) recently published an opinion article on the Daily Maverick after the devastating runaway fires spread through parts of upper campus of the university. 

Professor Seekings says that the UCT community deserves explanations from the university's management as to what went wrong and how such valuable parts of the campus such as the Jagger Library was not well protected against fires. 

"The fire that destroyed UCT’s Jagger Library and Mostert’s Mill and caused damage to several other buildings revealed both the importance of community and the failings of managerial governance," wrote Professor Seekings. 

He has called for management to be transparent and take accountability while investigation proceedings continue to find the causes of the fire. 

"The executive that claims to manage the university owes all of us an explanation of what went wrong", he writes.

He questions whether university had a fire or disaster management plan in place for how to respond to mountain fires and whether this was even implemented once the fire reached the campus. 

"Were there sprinklers on roofs to prevent fire? Had anyone realised that palm trees posed an acute fire hazard? Had roof gutters been cleared of inflammable material during the fire season?" questioned Seekings. 

There were also allegations that the university had ignored warnings to improve its water infrastructure to ensure that adequate pressure was provided for fire hoses. Fire hoses were used by academics to put out burning trees and ivy but their efforts were in vain due to low water pressure. 

Professor Seekings also notes that while trees, ivy and residences on upper campus were being hosed the Jagger Reading room seemed to be ignored until the fire brigade arrived and by then it was already an "unstoppable inferno" according to the Professor. 

He commends students and staff who worked to put out as much of the blaze as they could but questions where the decisive action of the university's management was once fires started engulfing buildings on campus. 

He says that the university failed to protect the precious intellectual collections at the Jagger Library that staff, donors and scholars worldwide had entrusted them to. 

"The “Executive” that claims to “manage” the university owes all of us an explanation of what went wrong, of how a fire on the mountain could consume world-famous collections in the library and the Plant Conservation Unit, " Professor Seekings wrote. 

The university has stated that it is now committed to "building back better” and Professor Seekings says that this requires a full analysis of what went wrong and that managers should be held accountable for any failings. 

The Professor told CapeTalk that it is important that a cover up doesn't happen in this situation. 

"We need to pose the questions and demand that the questions get answered."-Prof. Jeremy Seekings, Director at Centre for Social Science Research - University of Cape Town

 

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