From the ashes: historical botanic photos destroyed in Cape Town fire resurrected


Table Mountain blaze destroyed university’s plant conservation archives, but digitised ‘then-and-now’ images continue to shed light on changes in South Africa’s landscape

The fire that started on the slopes of Table Mountain on April 18 this year quickly swept through the University of Cape Town campus. The world watched in horror as the African Studies Library was burned to the ground. In the weeks that followed, volunteers waded through the waterlogged basement of the razed building to see which rare books had survived.

What few people beyond the university realised at the time is that barely 100 metres away the Department of Biological Sciences had also suffered catastrophic losses. “We’ve lost everything,” says Prof Timm Hoffman, the director of the Plant Conservation Unit (PCU), which was housed in a “highly flammable wooden turret” on the roof of the HW Pearson building.

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