Devastating fire destroys parts of UCT, historical Mostert’s Mill, Rhodes Memorial Restaurant, not yet under control!



Yesterday a devastating fire started in Cape Town on one of the hottest days this summer, not only devastating in terms of the loss of vegetation and wildlife in the Table Mountain National Park, and buildings, but also the historical nature of these buildings, some with tourism significance too. Vagrants living in the National Park illegally are alleged to have caused the fire.

The fire continued burning on Devil’s Peak last night, and now has spread to Vredehoek, with certain parts of the suburb being evacuated this morning. Unfortunately it is being fanned by a gale force South Easter.

The fire is said to have started in the Table Mountain National Park near Rhodes Memorial and behind the University of Cape Town (UCT), to have reached the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant, inside which a gas bottle exploded, resulting in most of the restaurant being destroyed.  The fire then spread, jumping across the M3 Highway, flames burning the thatch roof of Mostert’s Mill, a historical building and a landmark on the South-bound lane of the M3. Then the fire hit the UCT campus, affecting the Library the most, all three floors being burnt. Students in residences had to be evacuated. The University opened 191 years ago, the oldest university in our country.

While the wind picked up late yesterday afternoon, not helping the hard-working 200 firefighters, it is gale force now, and predictions are that the fire will spread from Vredehoek across to Oranjezicht, and on to Kloofnek. Councillor Nicola Jowell reported this morning that the cause of the fire above De Waal Drive has been arson, three persons having been seen setting fires along the Drive, and one arrested for alleged arson to date!

I knew little about Mostert’s Mill, so did some Googling, finding this on Wikipedia:

The mill was built around 1796 as a private mill on the farm ‘Welgelegen’, owned by Gysbert van Renen and was named after his son-in-law, Sybrand Mostert, after Van Renen’s death.[1] It was the first privately owned mill in Cape Town, Cape Colony. Prior to the British occupation of the Cape in the Battle of Muizenberg in 1795, only mills controlled by the Dutch East India Company were allowed. Mostert’s Mill had ceased working by 1873[2] but was owned by the Mostert family until 1889, when it was sold to a Mr Wilks, who sold it in 1891 to Cecil Rhodes. The mill became derelict but a restoration was undertaked by the Dutch millwright Christiaan Bremer. The restored mill was opened on 1 February 1936 by Dr Lorentz, the Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the Netherlands. The ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister, General Hertzog, and flour was ground for the guests.[1]

The mill was worked on occasion but it again became derelict during the Second World War.[2] In 1986, the windshaft broke and the sails crashed to the ground.[3] The Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa started a campaign to preserve the mill, leading to the formation of the Friends of Mostert’s Mill in 1993.[2] A further restoration in 1995 by Dunning-Bremer (who restored the mill in 1935) returned the
mill to working order again at a cost of R245,000.[4]

On 18 April 2021, the mill was gutted in a fire that had started on Table Mountain and destroyed several buildings.[5][6]’

Councillor Jowell has posted the following snippet of good news within the devastation about the UCT Library Fire :

A small but significant piece of good news in this tragedy following the Mayor’s visit to UCT earlier today. The UCT Jagger library has small fire proof rooms underground that house the most valuable, rare and important collections. Those fire proof roller doors had been deployed in time to save much of this collection. Whist the reading room above is destroyed there is a least some good news in knowing that some of the irreplaceable material has been saved.
Of course the full scale of the loss will only be known in the coming days.
Thinking of my Alma Mater and many days spent in that reading room. Such deep sadness today.’

The Rhodes Memorial Restaurant is located behind the Memorial. I was unable to find any information about it. The Rhodes Memorial ‘on Devil’s Peak in Cape Town, South Africa, is a memorial to English-born, South African politician Cecil John Rhodes (1853–1902). The memorial was designed by the renowned architect, Sir Herbert Baker. The memorial is situated at Rhodes’s favourite spot on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak. Rhodes’s own wooden bench is still situated below the memorial. The magnificent view facing north-east can be imagined as the start of the Cape to Cairo road, Rhodes’s imperial dream of a British colonial Africa which had Rhodes as one of its greatest champions. Rhodes owned vast areas of the lower slopes of Table Mountain, most of which he gave to the nation on his death. Part of his estate was used for the University of Cape Town upper campus, part is now the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, while much else of it was spared from development.[1]’

Updates will be added to this post.


Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide


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