During the course of the second semester in 2016 the students countrywide led a “#Fees Must Fall” campaign from which the University of KwaZulu-Natal was not immune. On 6 September 2016, students continued with protests for the better part of the day. The situation turned chaotic due to clashes between the students and South African Police Services (SAPS). Around 5 pm, the GMJ Sweeney (Law Library) was set alight. Most staff had left for the day with the exception of those who had other commitments and were involved with part-time students.
The following day we were all devastated as we witnessed a gutted library, covered in soot and water and areas burnt beyond recognition. The atmosphere was sombre and one of disbelief. Everyone was in a state of shock because of the incident. There was no time to lament, as swift solutions had to be sought to remedy the situation. Subsequently, respective stakeholders (Library, Law School, Campus Management Services and MTI Group) met to map a plan of action to restore library service.
THE GREATNESS OF TEAM WORK IN THE CRISIS PROJECT
The mammoth project was about to start. The University brought forward the September mid-term vacation to allow a spirit of calmness to prevail. In an attempt to get work done speedily, the services of graduate assistants (GA) and undergraduates were enlisted. Within the space of 10 days we embarked on and completed much of the process of:
- Packing up the entire Law library collection to be sent for restoration; it was dirty, hard hard work!
- Identifying new space on the first floor of the EG Malherbe Library to temporarily accommodate the Law Library and School of Law staff.
- Organizing a team to prepare for the library refurbishment.
- The reconstruction began.
The work begins…
Team work and project management are buzz words we often use in our everyday work, without a meaning outside the context. ‘Project management’ is used in the context of the project as an activity as opposed to it as a title. Due to time constraints the process of planning and execution of the project were done simultaneously. Hence, dealing with the crisis did not allow us the latitude of project management planning in its logical form. The various teams worked individually and thereafter collaborated during specific times to ensure that the project progressed well. The teams responsible for ensuring that the Law Library could return to its normalcy as soon as possible were constituted as follows:
- The Campus Management Services (CMS) to deal with the physical building and removal of furniture etc
- Information and Communication Service Division (ICS) to remove damaged computers and equipment
- Adams Book Sellers and Stationary for the replacement of burnt items
- MTI Group: Humidity & Moisture Control to clean the sooty books
- Graduate and undergraduate assistants and library student assistants to pack the books into boxes
- School of Law who did most of the project management – and fed the students!
- Library who directed students, packed boxes and liaised with all the contractors.
We worked tirelessly for two weeks, ensuring that the library services could be as fully functional as possible providing a quality service to all users timeously by the beginning of the new semester two weeks away. Many had to sacrifice their personal time in order to meet the respective deadlines. Against all the odds these efforts were achieved.
Once the original building was more or less fully restored, nine months later, in July 2017, the temporary Law Library returned to a refurbished GMJ Sweeney Law Library. The teams across campuses jointly contributed in ensuring this.
Experiences learned from the project
Any situation presents one with an opportunity to learn from these challenges. Even though disasters rarely occur, they leave indelible images to the affected. In the circumstances things cannot be changed but the lessons learned are critical going forward. The plight faced by the Law Library required quick thinking action and needed us to respond to the crisis despite having no proper disaster plan in place which led to makeshift arrangements. The progress achieved in the restoration of the Law Library was impossible without the following principles:
- Trust relationship
- Pooling of skills
- Innovation Visionary Leadership
Although the work was intense, physical and challenging we managed to find humour, happiness and love out of what we did. The enormous task that was impossible to an individual, was only made possible by the collective effort of the team.
PHOTOS BEFORE AND AFTER THE HOWARD COLLEGE LAW LIBRARY FIRE