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Storm forces Cape universities to hunker down

Image: warrenski [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr


‘Unprecedented’ weather warnings pushed teaching online in some of the province’s institutions

An unseasonal storm battered South Africa’s Western Cape Province this week, forcing its universities to batten down the hatches. 

The storm, a so-called ‘cut-off low’ accompanied by an unprecedented Level 9 weather warning, tore solar panels off roofs and caused other structural damage in the coastal province, while fires fanned by harsh winds gutted several buildings.

For the most part, however, universities weathered the tempest.

Stellenbosch University appeared the most affected when heavy rains and gale-force winds battered the town from 6-8 April, causing damage to trees, roof tiles and gutters, and even breaking some windows, university spokesperson Martin Viljoen said. 

The University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology did not report infrastructure damage but advised staff and students to work from home on Monday 8 April.

Lessons from the pandemic

“The university executive management made a decision on Sunday to move all learning and teaching to online as we have well-established systems in place that were perfected during the pandemic,” said UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder.

“This was done purely as a precaution because the safety of our students and staff is of paramount importance. Our campaign to get students online during Covid was very effective because we had in turn learned from the student fees protests in 2015,” he added.

The University of Cape Town continued with in-person classes but advised staff and students to prioritise their personal safety. “UCT understands that some staff may be unable to travel to work due to transportation and/or road access challenges,” the university said in an official statement.

Stellenbosch University also did not move teaching and learning online, but acting rector Stan du Plessis urged managers to accommodate staff who may have been personally affected by the storms.

“We empathise with our staff and students who have to deal with associated disruption and damage,” he said in a public statement. “Lecturers are able to use SUNLearn as an alternative to on-campus lectures but this should not create the general expectation that all lectures will be online, nor that assessments will be postponed.”