28 October 2007

South Africa: Matie Res Hit By Fire Rises From the Ashes

Cape Town — The cause of the fire that gutted a Stellenbosch University residence more than two months ago has yet to be confirmed.

The men-only Eendrag hostel was almost destroyed after the fire on August 9. The second floor was gutted and the ground and first floors were badly affected by water damage.

Scores of students were left with only the clothes on their backs after personal possessions and important academic notes were burnt or damaged.

Mohamed Shaik, manager of communication at the university, said they were waiting for the final report from insurers to determine the cause of the fire.

"We have launched our own investigation. But we have seen only the preliminary reports. We hope to receive the final report from the insurance (company) before the end of the year," said Shaik.

Various causes have already been ruled out, including arson and gross negligence.

Formal lectures at the university ended on Friday, but Shaik said decisive action had limited the effects of the fire.

"We have extended a hand as far as we could. We have tried our best to help the students recoup their losses."

Measures taken include assisting students in securing their lost notes. Book suppliers replaced textbooks burnt in the fire.

The Stellenbosch community raised more than R700 000 as an emergency fund for the students. This money was used to cover the loss of students' personal possessions.

"The residence structure itself is covered by our insurance. But the personal items belonging to the students, like laptops, were not. So that money helped the students."

Eendrag was home to just over 270 students, and most are being housed in other university residences, said Shaik, while 80 were staying in private accommodation in Stellenbosch.

The extra costs involved with this arrangement were being covered by the university.

"The university has also taken a decision to reimburse the students. Both the parents and students were perfectly happy with this arrangement."

The head student of Eendrag, André Coetzee, said the biggest loss for the students was not living in the residence. "Possessions were lost, but what we really miss is that sense of brotherhood we had. The worst thing is just not living here any more. We are looking forward to going home."

Coetzee, a fourth-year BA student from Wellington, is living with 14 students in private accommodation in town.

Eendrag's dining hall was not damaged by the fire, and the students still have their meals there every day, said Coetzee.

The students were chiefly shocked and disbelieving as the fire raged, but Coetzee said the blaze had also taught them personal lessons.

"It's been so amazing, how we have all supported each other.

"It was such a crisis, but everyone, the university, the community and other students just opened their hearts to us."

Shaik agreed the event had fostered a strong sense of unity among students.

"It could have been an even bigger disaster, but the way the students handled it was really inspiring. There has always been a healthy competition between Eendrag and the other residences, and the mature, supporting way the other students reacted is something to note. In hindsight, we see that something positive did emerge from the fire."

Trevor Hoeben, spokesperson for the construction company CSV Construction, said work on the residence was moving fast.

"I believe the builders were on site on August 18, and so far they have rebuilt 90 person of the structure."

Shaik said work on the residence was scheduled to be completed in January.

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