More than 200 firefighters and emergency personnel battled the wildfire in Cape Town which burnt Table Mountain, historical landmarks and the University of Cape Town library on Monday. Africa’s largest disaster response non-governmental organisation,Gift of the Givers was on the ground to assist the students following the devastation caused by the fires that began on Sunday morning.
The organisation became involved once the university had evacuated students from residences near its main campus. Gift of the Givers project manager, Ali Sablay, said that a request had been made for the organisation’s help to feed 4 000 students.
They finished feeding students at 01:40 on Monday morning. Operations resumed later on Monday morning at the Old Mutual West Campus in Pinelands. Sablay noted that Old Mutual had offered their facility free of charge and was willing to assist despite the short notice.
Sablay added that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.Regarding the request from the university for further assistance, Gift of the Givers will continue feeding students three meals daily for the next seven days and will work with the UCT Council to assess the situation thereafter.
Many corporations have come on board, eager to help and ensure that students are as comfortable as possible. Gift of the Givers is coordinating donations from the likes of Shoprite, The Foschini Group, Nestlé, Engen and vida e caffè.Individuals have also been quick and eager to assist. Sablay said that as soon as the news broke that Gift of the Givers would be feeding students, their office was surrounded by cars and volunteers.
One of the volunteers was a resident from Khayelitsha who had lost all his belongings in two fires. The man said that although he couldn’t provide accommodation and was unable to make a donation, he wanted to help in whatever way possible, including offloading trucks and distributing food to students.
He added that there is a need for hygiene packs for students, particularly sanitary pads. Those wanting to donate non-perishable food and other items may drop them at Old Mutual. Sablay also advised that South Africans keep track of the organisation’s social media feeds for further updates.
Professor Adam Haupt, Director of UCT’s Centre for Film and Media Studies said “The students who are in residence, in the context of COVID-19, are [there] precisely because they cannot work from home due to various circumstances.These circumstances include and speak to South Africa’s racialised inequality, the digital divide, and various other class and social factors. That the fire has happened during a pandemic makes the situation much more difficult for students”.
Haupt advised that those who can physically help should do so, but must remain wary of exposing themselves and their families to COVID-19. And for those who cannot help in person, there are other options, such as donating to the #UCTFire emergency relief fund or Gift of the Givers.