KU Leuven: Belgian libraries and universities raise money for the reconstruction of the Jagger Library in Cape Town

The University of Cape Town was hit hard in April 2021 by the severe forest fires that ravaged Table Mountain. In addition to several student residences, the Jagger Library , where all the unique and precious collections were kept, was also reduced to ashes. Both the fire and the extinguishing water wreaked havoc in the cellars of the library, where large quantities of collections were also kept. Unique South African heritage went up in flames, thousands of books and manuscripts destroyed.

The images of the fire caused quite a stir at KU Leuven. The day after the facts, Rector Luc Sels called on his international colleagues to show solidarity. Also among the employees of the KU Leuven Libraries the idea arose to support their colleagues in Cape Town. “In both world wars, our Leuven university library was reduced to ashes twice and almost all collections, including many precious and unique pieces, went up in flames,” says Hilde Van Kiel, director of the KU Leuven Libraries. “The fire in Cape Town reminds us not only of the destruction in our own past, but also and above all of the enormous international solidarity in the reconstruction. Solidarity then spread worldwide and help came from all corners. Now it is up to us to show that same solidarity.”

Moving for Cape Town
This is how the idea grew to start a fundraising campaign in which participants collect money by walking, walking, cycling or swimming for the benefit of their colleagues in Cape Town. This idea quickly found resonance among other libraries and universities in Belgium that joined the initiative: Kadoc, KBR, UCLouvain, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Université de Liège, Université de Mons, Université de Namur, University of Antwerp, University of Ghent (Africa Platform and University Library), Hasselt University, the Flemish Heritage Libraries and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The collaboration led to ‘Move for Cape Town’, a unique Belgian initiative.

“We want to get as many people as possible moving for Cape Town,” Van Kiel continues. “And you can take that very literally: participants can run, cycle, swim or walk. Through sponsoring you can collect money to contribute to the reconstruction of the Jagger Library . Those who prefer to leave the exercise to others can also donate a sum via the platform or sponsor one of the other participants.”

Anyone can participate in the campaign via the fundraising platform www.moveforcapetown.be . With all participants, ‘Move for Cape Town’ hopes to bridge at least the 13,000 kilometers separating Belgium from South Africa. “A counter on the platform will show the progress of the number of kilometers. The total amount donated and the number of kilometers are also visible to everyone via a counter.”

More solidarity than ever
“The past teaches us how crucial international solidarity is at times like these. It is now up to us to join forces and support our colleagues in Cape Town, based on the same idea,” says Rector Luc Sels. Shortly after the fire, he called on his colleagues from international networks for a joint solidarity action. “The many positive reactions were heartwarming. At the moment, together with the University of Cape Town, we are looking at where the needs lie in order to respond to this as effectively and efficiently as possible from various universities and to provide targeted help.”

“This action for the Jagger Library is a first concrete step that we can already take,” he continues. “As a university with a heart for heritage and based on our own past, we sympathize with our colleagues in Cape Town. With the collected funds we want to support the reconstruction of a library that is as fire-safe as possible in Cape Town. In addition, we also want to contribute to the much-needed digitization and conservation actions for the affected collections. In consultation with the local employees, we look at whether valuable South African pieces can be purchased at auctions or in antiquarian books to replenish the collection.”

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