Return to Transcripts main page


Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Moved to Prison Hospital; Super League Uproar; Thailand Grapples with Third Wave of COVID-19; Jury Begins Deliberations in George Floyd Murder Trial; Cuba's Transfer of Power; Oil Prices Higher, Weaker U.S. Dollar; NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter Flies on Mars; Cape Town Blaze Contained, Arsonist Arrested. Aired 2-2:45a ET

Aired April 20, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You are watching CNN. Ahead this hour, after a weeklong hunger strike behind bars, Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, in a prison hospital. His supporters warn, his life is hanging by a thread.

Plus, a rush for oxygen tanks and ICU beds in India as the country faces another wave of COVID cases.

Then, irreplaceable books and historic documents are gone after the Table Mountain wildfire in Africa gutted the University of Cape Town library. We speak to the school's vice chancellor as well.

Hi, I'm Robyn Curnow, you're watching CNN, thanks for joining me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is now in a prison hospital, east of Moscow. His supporters say he is dying. The outspoken Kremlin critic has been on a hunger strike since the end of March, demanding proper medical care.

But Russian authorities say he had been prescribed vitamin therapy and is now in a satisfactory condition. Let's get more now from our senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley. Sam?


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cries of pain caused by poisoning.

An attempt to silence Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, permanently. It failed. Today he languishes in a penal colony hospital in his homeland. Again, his staff say close to death. Others must now speak for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see that a big fragile patient with an extremely high pain syndrome, with deterioration of leg and arm function, with extremely elevated levels of potassium, that might cause fatal arrhythmia or fatal heart block.

KILEY (voice-over): With 20 days into hunger strike over his demands of independent medical attention, the international protests of his failing health have been led by the U.S.

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny, in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community.

KILEY (voice-over): Barely recovered from the nerve agent attack that nearly killed him, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he was detained for violating the terms of his probation, in a years old fraud case, which he said, was politically motivated. Then predictably, sentenced and imprisoned.

KILEY: Is there an element here that he is seeking martyrdom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, of course, not. He is just doing what he has to do, because he had to return because he didn't know anything wrong. He was not given the medical treatment. He used the hunger strike route as a last resort but still as a legitimate political instrument, a legitimate tool of the political fight.

KILEY (voice-over): Breaking down the walls of political power around the Kremlin will take much more.

KILEY: Any hopes that Alexei Navalny might have displacing Vladimir Putin from that building behind me remain pretty remote. Approval ratings for him are at 19 percent; for Putin they are about 64 percent. There are also concerns within this movement, that efforts being made here in Moscow to prescribe it as an extremist organization could snuff it out completely.

KILEY (voice-over): Meanwhile, the pro-democracy movement plans mass demonstrations on Wednesday against Putin and in support of Navalny, a man that the Kremlin is keen to dismiss as insignificant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He believes like a hooligan, absolutely, he trying to violate every rule that has been established. His (INAUDIBLE) all of that is to attract attention.

KILEY (voice-over): Whatever the outcomes for Navalny and his movement inside Russia, beyond its borders. It's the next move of Vladimir Putin that will receive the most attention -- Sam Kiley, CNN, Moscow.


CURNOW: U.S. President Joe Biden, talked with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about a summit in the months ahead. But the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says that if anything happens to Navalny, that invitation could be rescinded.


WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: The Russians know, certainly the Kremlin knows that if Alexei Navalny were to die in the care of the Russian government or if the Russian government were to direct a further invasion in Ukraine, then the summit would clearly be off. The summit will clearly be off.

But there is an incentive for the Kremlin to do the best they can for Navalny and to refrain from invading Ukraine.


TAYLOR: Indeed, just standing down those 100,000 troops that they have on the border.


CURNOW: For more, we turn to our senior international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

Nic, hi, good to see you. You heard the ambassador there.

How much pressure is on the Russian government and Mr. Putin right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There's a lot of pressure, it's not just the United States and not just President Biden and the State Department or the national security adviser in the United States. The European Union has been vocal about the treatment of Alexei Navalny, the British government has as well.

This is something that Putin is hearing from all angles and that's the intention. Navalny is protesting Putin's leadership and, clearly, is choosing every option, as limited as they are, to draw attention to Putin's leadership.

The consequences of that could be fatal for him. The international community has said, very clearly, this is a violation of his rights, he should not be in jail. They called out Russia when he was poisoned.

And so, this really is a natural escalation of the situation. I say natural because Russia seems to be on a collision course with Navalny, in trying to completely eradicate his opposition.

So Putin is, very clearly, told that you are responsible. But the pushback from the Kremlin has been that Putin is not responsible and cannot know what is going on with all inmates, while (INAUDIBLE) clearly says, well, you know about this one, and that Navalny is an agent of the United States, so Russia somehow.

So all of this international pressure on President Putin, on Russia, over Alexei Navalny, plays into or is manipulated by Russia's narrative that Navalny is just a stooge of the West. So Putin has the opportunity to use what Navalny is doing against him

and against the West which serves Putin's position that Russia is under threat from outside and, therefore, it needs to act up. But the stakes, as you say, are very high.

CURNOW: Mr. Navalny has been on this hunger strike since late March.

He is gambling with his life, isn't he?

He's gambling that either Mr. Putin will not let him die or that his death will have political implications. This is an extraordinarily brave end game either way.

ROBERTSON: It is. And it is a tactic that has been used before, around the world, by many people.

In the U.K., the context would be Navalny -- and I say in this context to give a broader one -- Navalny has not been shown to be a terrorist. He has not acted as a terrorist.

But the IRA, the sort of militant republican movement in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army, put some of their prisoners on hunger strike just to get political status.

Bobby Sands became the most famous, because he, while he was in prison, dying, as it turned out, from his own starvation, from denying himself food, he was one of 11 people, 11 irate prisons who died at the time.

And it is a long, slow, protracted process. It took him 66 days to die. The real question with Alexei Navalny is, what has been the effect of Novichok on his body?

He was poisoned, a year or so ago.

What has been the effect of that deadly nerve agent on his body and how much has that weakened his system?

He is, as you, say about 21 days now into this process. And his supporters are really desperately concerned that don't feel that he's, A, getting proper medical treatment, that he's been moved to a facility that's not suitable, that is not having access to his own doctors.

And I think that question of Novichok and the damage that has done to his body and therefore how much of a starvation he can withstand. Hunger strikers can be expected to live a couple of months but it's not clear that Navalny falls into that category, because his underlying health conditions, he may already be weakened.

CURNOW: Nic Robertson, in London, thank you very much. Of course, CNN will monitor this story.

There is also outrage over a proposed super league and it is mounting, from the grassroots level, to the upper echelons of European football. The head of the governing body, UEFA, calls the founding members, "shameless," and the breakaway super, league anything but.

He says these 12 clubs are holding football hostage to line their pockets, that the super league plans to play midweek matches.


CURNOW: It would decimate the prestigious and popular Champions League and many fans say they feel betrayed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just the legal head (ph) That's what happened to college, which means so much to our Liverpool sponsors (ph). (INAUDIBLE) It's all for money, greed. And that's all I'll say about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's one of the saddest days in football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: English football has been destroyed, rest in peace. We give it to the world and it's been taken away from us by greed, contempt, American owners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will kill the game, it will totally kill the game. I'm not interested in a European super league.


CURNOW: In the coming days, we may learn what kind of retaliation the clubs and their players could face, from which major events might be excluded. Much more on that, ahead on "WORLD SPORT." Stick around for that.


CURNOW: Global COVID cases climbing for eight straight weeks, despite vaccinations picking up worldwide. The World Health Organization says more than 5.2 million cases were reported around the globe just in the last 7 days, the most in one single week.

Now India and parts of Africa, are seeing a spike in infections, that you can see from this map. India, now reporting a 6th consecutive day of more than 200,000 new COVID cases.

The country's capital, Delhi, under lockdown, joining at least 13 other states with restrictions and curfews. The health care system is crumbling, with a shortage of ICU beds, oxygen and key medicines. The government is planning to approve all adults for the COVID vaccine by May the 1st.

Let's go to Vedika Sud, with all of those details.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bodies, piling up in crematoriums. Graveyards, running out of space. Hospitals, filled to a breaking point. Some patients left with no choice but to share a bed. Dozens are being treated in ambulances. India, known as a powerhouse for vaccines, some states say they are running low on supplies.

India's health care system is collapsing under the crush of COVID-19. Dr. Jalil Parkar (ph) is a front line worker at a top mobile hospital, that had to convert its lift lobby into an additional COVID- 19 ward. Parkar (ph) says there is an overwhelming increase in cases and patient.

DR. JALIL PARKAR, LILAVATI HOSPITAL: The volume is humongous. It's just like a tsunami or, you could say, more than a tsunami.

SUD (voice-over): Thousands have taken to social media, desperately looking for beds. Oxygen supplies and medicines, all of, which are running out.

Ignoring the alarming surge, millions attended the Kumbh Mela (ph) festival, one of the largest festivals in the world. Despite strict guidelines and a truncated schedule, thousands of devotes have tested positive in India's northern city, Haridwar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the one hand, we are struggling to increase beds, increase oxygen supplies, increase drug supplies, to those who need, them to save lives. On the other hand, we have gatherings all across.

SUD (voice-over): Festival patrons are finally moving out, after a belated appeal by Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. Even after surpassing 200,000 new daily cases, (INAUDIBLE) politicians across party lines have been sending a mixed message by campaigning for state elections with thousands in attendance.

People queuing up to vote, floating basic safety guidelines. Migrant workers are fleeing big cities, after local governments announced partial lockdowns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Everything is shut.

How do we earn to survive?

We will come back when things are better.

SUD (voice-over): This deadly second wave has India facing a health emergency, like never before, many asking, did India let down its guard? -- Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.


CURNOW: Thank you for that, Vedika.

Like India, Thailand is also struggling with another wave of infections, cases dipping slightly on Monday after days of record highs, with strict new measures now in place. Paula Hancocks is live for, us in Bangkok, with more on these numbers.

What can you tell us?


Certainly, there is a concern here, in Thailand, seeing that this is the worst outbreak since the pandemic began. Of course, it's all relative, nothing like what was seen in other countries like India. But for Monday, there was more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases, not a record.


HANCOCKS: But we have been seeing their record every day.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): It's one of Thailand's most popular festivals. Some plan for the new year, better known as the water festival where you are almost guaranteed to get soaked the second you walk outside.

It was canceled for a second year running last week, the country is now starting the new year gripped by record numbers of new coronavirus cases.

HANCOCKS: Considering this latest outbreak in Bangkok started with the entertainment district, inevitably it is streets like this one that have been shut down first. All bars, all nightclubs, all massage parlors have been ordered to shut.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): This road is known as backpackers central, used to see the vast majority of business from foreign tourists. Locals here say they've been struggling to get by for a year. And now the latest outbreak has sparked a massive testing campaign in the neighborhood and businesses are forced to close once again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): More than 50 percent of businesses have shut down. But once the country is opened up, they may come back. The only problem is, we haven't seen a solid plan for opening up the country.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The plans at this point have all focused on dealing with the immediate health crisis, as hospital beds fill up. Field hospitals to ease the strain and house asymptomatic patients, positive cases are not allowed to shelter at home.

This gives you an idea of how bad officials here in Thailand fear this outbreak could get. This sporting arena just on the outskirts of Bangkok can hold up to about 500 COVID patients. This is being replicated across the country. They have more than 20,000 extra field hospital beds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think it will get better as we put plans in place though we need preparation from the public.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Officials are concerned that the latest outbreak could jeopardize plans to open up at least some of its borders to foreign tourists in a few months. Plans were being made to open up the island of Phuket in July but it's

a plan that relies almost entirely on vaccination. In Thailand, that process is slow. With the death toll around 100, the need to secure doses was less acute than elsewhere. Now in the midst of its worst outbreak yet, the government finds itself lower down the priority list, in a world desperately short on vaccines.


HANCOCKS: So officials are now looking to how they can preserve the number of hospital beds. Clearly they are filling up quite quickly as we see these numbers rise in Thailand. They are looking at whether some people, when they test positive, are asymptomatic or have slight symptoms, can they then recover at home?

This is something that hasn't been allowed up until now. They also have an idea where they want hotels to be used as hospitals. They already do this for the quarantine, for people coming into Thailand. They want to use the same hotels to be able to have asymptomatic patients there as well, making sure the pressure being put on hospitals will then ease somewhat -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thank you very much. Paula Hancocks there.

For the first time in decades, Cuba's Communist Party is being led by someone other than a Castro.

How much will actually change?

That story next. Plus, a look at what jurors heard during the closing arguments as they decide the fate of Derek Chauvin, accused in George Floyd's death. You are watching CNN.





CURNOW: Jury deliberations finally got underway on Monday, in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was accused of killing George Floyd with excessive and unreasonable force by kneeling on his neck for more than 9 minutes.

Floyd's death was caught in chilling video and sparked protests around the U.S. and around the world and calls for police reform and racial justice. This was Minneapolis on Monday, the scene of more protests. These were peaceful. But the city and others across the U.S. are bracing for the possibility that a not guilty verdict could bring anger and chaos to the streets again. Omar Jimenez is in Minneapolis with some of the courtroom moments before jurors were handed the case. Take a look.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first words in closing arguments for the prosecution were not of the man on trial but of the man they want jurors to remember.


SCHLEICHER: This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes.

JIMENEZ: The prosecution arguing it was Derek Chauvin's knee to the neck that eventually killed Floyd. Chauvin is facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, along with third-degree murder, the most serious of which carries a penalty of up to 40 years in prison.

And the prosecution took jurors back through witness testimony with diagrams and charts, reminding them of why they say Chauvin is guilty of it all and why he had every opportunity to stop what happened that day.

SCHLEICHER: He knew better. He didn't do better.

JIMENEZ: Making clear this trial was not about the Minneapolis Police Department, but about one former Minneapolis police officer.

SCHLEICHER: This is not an anti-police prosecution. It's a pro-police prosecution.

JIMENEZ: The defense began on the topic of what a reasonable officer would have done considering the totality of the circumstances, including the violence of the initial struggles.

ERIC NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: The nine minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds. It completely disregards it. It says, in that moment, at that point, nothing else that happened before should be taken into consideration by a reasonable police officer.

JIMENEZ: Then, largely sticking to their themes that George Floyd died from drug use and his medical history, that Chauvin did exactly what he was trained to do and the perceived threat of a growing crowd distracted Chauvin.

NELSON: In the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be.

JIMENEZ: Prosecutors pushing back and their opportunity for rebuttal.

JERRY BLACKWELL, MINNESOTA SPECIAL ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: When Mr. Floyd is saying, "Please, please, I can't breathe" 27 times in just a few minutes, you saw it when Mr. Chauvin did not let up and didn't get up.

When he knows it doesn't have a pulse, he doesn't let up or get up. Even when the ambulance comes, he doesn't let up or get up even then.

JIMENEZ: Each side hoping to leave a dozen jurors with a final impression before they deliberate on one of the most consequential cases in Minnesota history, as the world watches.

NELSON: There is absolutely no evidence that Officer Chauvin intentionally, purposefully applied unlawful force.

SCHLEICHER: This wasn't policing. This was murder.


CURNOW: That was Omar Jimenez reporting there.

It is the end of the six decade long Castro era in Cuba. But not the end of the Castros' ideology. The new leader of Cuba's ruling Communist Party, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, is emphasizing continuity as a new generation takes over. But he faces dissent and economic challenges as Patrick Oppmann reports from Havana.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Already president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel is also the first head of the island's powerful Communist Party since the revolution to not be named Castro.

He was chosen, on Monday, as the first secretary in a closed-door congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the only political party allowed on the island after Raul Castro said, he was retiring, if not completely ending his influence.


"You will be consulted on the most important strategic decisions affecting our nation," Diaz-Canel said of his predecessor. At 61, Diaz-Canel is far younger than the 80- and 90-year olds, who fought alongside Fidel Castro.

Since the revolution, they have occupied most of the top positions in Cuba. U.S. officials, who have met Diaz-Canel, say that while he is less likely to lecture about the evils of imperialism than the Castros, he is a firm believer in the system they created.

JEFF FLAKE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Really, to move on and to enact the kind of reforms that Cuba will need to enact, they need to move well beyond the Castros.

OPPMANN (voice-over): While few expect younger officials like Diaz- Canel, who was handpicked by Raul Castro, to deviate from the party line, the symbolism of a Cuba without the Castros officially in charge is striking.

OPPMANN: Most Cubans were born after the 1959 revolution and, until recently, have only known Castro at the helm of their country. This famous family has impacted Cuba so deeply, is beginning to let go of power but the question is whether the Castro revolution can survive without them.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Despite the injection of new blood at the top, the Cuban government is struggling to adapt to the times. Critics on the island using increased internet access to show, what they say, is growing poverty and injustice.

An economy, ravaged by COVID, leading to longer and longer lines for food. The Trump administration, placing some of the toughest sanctions on Cuba in decades, which, President Biden, so far, appears reluctant to lift. As he announced his retirement, Raul Castro said he was leaving power but not giving up his fight.

"I will continue soldiering on, as one more revolutionary combatant," he says, "ready to make my modest contribution until the end of my life.'

But Castro will turn 90 in June. The age his brother Fidel was, when he died. In eastern Cuba, Castro has already built a tomb for himself, next to the grave of his wife, who died in 2007.

Cuba's future is uncertain. But the era of the Castros' uninterrupted, long rule, is coming to an end -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


CURNOW: Thanks, Patrick, for that.

Just ahead, a university evacuated and a library with irreplaceable works of history gutted by a fast-moving fire in South Africa. We will talk with the vice chancellor of UCT in just a moment.





CURNOW: Welcome back, I'm Robyn Curnow, it's 30 minutes past the hour. Thank you for joining me.

Oil prices climbed on Monday, supported by a weakened U.S. dollar but there are concerns about rising COVID cases in India, the world's third largest oil importer and consumer. And analysts say that the biggest threat to continuing oil price strength is large-scale new waves of the virus, causing demand to tumble again.

Let's talk about this; emerging markets editor John Defterios joins us from Abu Dhabi, to put all of this in perspective.

John, hi, wonderful to see, you prices have surged well over $60 a barrel but what did that flash crash in oil prices force the industry to do?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: I love the way you put, that Robyn, the flash crash. We are marking a milestone when prices went negative for the first time ever. It was actually one year ago today.

If you look at our chart, it doesn't capture the negative territory but from the q2 period onwards, it is gone from zero or negative prices to 60 quite fast. We're even at $67 a barrel, when it comes to North Sea Brent. How did we get, there is a huge question.

Unprecedented cuts; we saw demand drop in the second quarter of last year, anything from 20 percent to 30 percent, depending in the market. And, the economy you're talking about there. But the OPEC producers, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Nigeria, Iraq, they had to cut about 10 percent of supplies.

Usually, they make incremental moves of 0.5 percent to 1 percent. This was extraordinary. Robyn, think about it today, airline travel, road transport, the movement of goods, people on the streets in different parts of the world, certainly not where we were prior to the pandemic.

So this is a very tentative recovery and while they are still removing oil from the market, in terms of the 20-plus producers in that structure of OPEC plus.

CURNOW: How does this third wave of the pandemic in Europe and places like India, we've talked about a lot on the show, today threaten this recovery?

DEFTERIOS: I'm glad you bring it up, because the demand, prior to the pandemic, was 100 million barrels per day around the world, how much we consumed, dropped to over 90 million barrels a day. We're about halfway from what we lost. That is the projection. But it's a very tentative projection because, Europe, still, is wrestling with the distribution of vaccines, as you know.

India, these caseload of 1.5 million over seven days, is just eye- popping. It's hard to project what the second half will look like. So the producers, the major oil exporters of the world say, we're adding 2 million barrels per day between May and July. If we need, to Robyn, we will cut again. We don't know what demand will look like in the second half.

The final point here, the Biden administration, is leading this global push to renewables and many like Goldman Sachs says that demand will peak as early as 2025, we just don't know how fast it will fall, over the next 30 years.

In terms of meeting climate targets, Robyn, we should be at 30 million barrels per day, not 100 million barrels per day. Right now there are joint higher prices but for how long, is really big trillion dollar, multi trillion dollar unknown.

CURNOW: John Defterios, good to see, you live there from Abu Dhabi, thank you.

Coming up, a red letter day on the Red Planet. How NASA made history with this tiny helicopter on Mars. (MUSIC PLAYING)




CURNOW: It's a historic moment and a dream come true for NASA engineers, their Ingenuity helicopter rose above the Martian surface on Monday and flew. It was short and sweet but NASA will raise the bar on Ingenuity's next flight. They fully expect the little guy to crash up there as well. Michael Holmes, with the story. Michael?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can now say that (INAUDIBLE) on another planet.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the little helicopter, with a very big mission. NASA's mini chopper, named Ingenuity, became the first aircraft to achieve powered controlled flight on another planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beyond this first flight, over the next coming days, we have up to four flights planned and increasingly difficult flights, challenging flights. And we are going to continually push, all the way to the limit of this rotorcraft.

HOLMES (voice-over): A short hop, that is the culmination of many hits and misses. Ingenuity, has so far, survived the frigid Martian nights after separating from the Perseverance rover, relying on its solar-powered batteries to fire up internal heaters.

But an initial spin test of its rotors delayed a scheduled flight attempt, due to problems with a timer. NASA says the helicopter, later, successfully, completed the test, spinning its blades at 2,400 revolutions per minute, the speed it needs to take off.

Scientists say, having a bird's-eye view of the terrain could revolutionize the way we study new planets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the Ingenuity team has done is give us the third dimension. They have freed us from the surface, now forever in planetary exploration so that we can now make a combination, of course, of driving on the surface and doing reconnaissance on inaccessible places for a rover.

HOLMES (voice-over): Flying on the Red Planet presented some difficult engineering challenges because of the low gravity of Mars and an atmosphere that is 1 percent the density of Earth.

NASA engineers sent along a good luck charm; attached to Ingenuity is a piece of fabric from the wing of the Wright brothers' flyer which carried the first powered controlled flight on Earth -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


CURNOW: In South Africa, Cape Town is assessing the extensive damage now that the wildfire on Table Mountain has contained. The fire destroyed more than 400 hectares of vegetation on Table Mountain and high winds spread the flames for more than a day and kept water roaming helicopters grounded.

The fire also gutted the historic reading room at the University of Cape Town library, as you can see here. Other historic structures like Mostert's Mill were also damaged. We also at the university, students were evacuated and still are unable to return to campus.

Joining us now, on the phone, Mamokgethi Phakeng. she is the vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town which is still trying to take stock of the damage.

Professor, hi; hundreds of years of history, precious African archives seem to have gone up in smoke. It's described as losing the intellectual heart of the university.

What's been lost, particular in that library fire?

MAMOKGETHI PHAKENG, UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN: What is lost includes the African studies collection as well as about 3,500 African studies collections and part of the government publication collection and several other collections that (INAUDIBLE) have been researching (ph) on.

So it's been an incredible -- it's an incredible loss. We (INAUDIBLE) the roof has collapsed. The basement, we cannot access the basement yet and we think, there might be something saved in the basement because what we had in the basement and we are hoping (INAUDIBLE) that the basement (INAUDIBLE) because in the basement is (INAUDIBLE) and some money script, 20,000 pages of the (INAUDIBLE) manuscript may be saved in the basement.

But otherwise, everything that's on the floor has been destroyed.


CURNOW: When you talk about the African studies section, this is colonial and liberation history, the original documents, going back hundreds of years, irreplaceable.

What has been the reaction not just from academics that work with these documents and manuscripts but also, globally, from the academic community?

PHAKENG: We have had overwhelming response from our colleagues, from the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe who are saying perhaps we should work together to rebuild the collection.

We've had (INAUDIBLE) from our students and we had a lot of colleagues who spent time to work in that space who are really, really (INAUDIBLE) by this happening in Jagger Reading Room. So it's been devastating, the last 48 hours.

CURNOW: Devastating, not just the library, many parts of the whole campus have been destroyed. Residences, as I understand, are not in great shape, but also the botany department, again, holding a repository of some extensive collections of South African flora. Give us an understanding of what else you have lost.

PHAKENG: We -- the political science building has been damaged as well. The roof and the upper floors completely destroyed by fire. The floors below severely damaged by fire and by the sprinkler system which was deployed.

But what is good about what happened (INAUDIBLE) collection has been saved and the collections in the library are intact. This is a collection which contains approximately a third of the (INAUDIBLE) specimen housed in (INAUDIBLE) in steel cabinets in the (INAUDIBLE) building.

So we have left that has been saved and that is because of the steel cabinet that they have been destroyed. There are other minor damage on the (INAUDIBLE) part of the (INAUDIBLE) block (ph).

Then, we have two residences, two of our oldest residences, Smart Hall (ph). We have sustained localized damage, including the burning of the palm trees in the (INAUDIBLE) as well as the damage sustained to a top roof plat (ph), with the roof that has collapsed.

The Sular (ph) residence is the one that is damaged the most. Beside the front of the fire (ph), the roof, the roof has collapsed. So we will have to rebuild on that. All the blocks that our middle campus that are completely destroyed, a lot of buildings completely gutted. The cover houses (ph) also completely burned down.

So we're really going to have to rebuild those.

CURNOW: It is a laundry list of devastation for one of the continent's great world's universities. I wish you luck in the coming days and much love to all the students and academics there on the ground. Good luck, Mamokgethi Phakeng, the vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town, thank you.

So you are watching CNN. There will be more news in the coming hours of course, I'm Robyn Curnow, "WORLD SPORT," starts next. I'm going to hand you over to the good folks at "WORLD SPORT." Enjoy.