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Arson suspect in court today after fire flare-up causes further damage to National Assembly building

Parliament Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula also confirmed that the sitting of Parliament for the State of the Nation address for 2022 will go ahead despite the damage to the physical building. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Parliament Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula also confirmed that the sitting of Parliament for the State of the Nation address for 2022 will go ahead despite the damage to the physical building. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 4, 2022

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Cape Town - Shortly after Parliament’s presiding officers announced a forensic probe into the fire which destroyed parts of the building, the fire re-ignited.

On Monday afternoon’s flare-up caused even further damage to the National Assembly where the ceiling had already collapsed, leaving the chamber in ruins.

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During the briefing, Parliament Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula insisted she had not failed in her duty with regards to security after the Hawks arrested a suspect who was found on the grounds, constantly monitored by security.

“Parliament is a national key point, it is the responsibility of both Parliament and the police to make sure that the security of Parliament is a hundred percent. I am not responsible for any dropping of the ball in terms of security in Parliament.

“Any attack on Parliament is an attack on the democracy of the people of South Africa which was fought for so hard,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

She confirmed that the sitting of Parliament for this year’s State of the Nation address would go ahead despite the damage to the building.

Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has offered Parliament various premises as alternative venues, including the City Hall and the City’s council chambers. Mapisa-Nqakula said the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was considered as a possibility.

“We have received an offer from the CTICC that we can use their facilities and the conditions under which that would have to be done. When crisis appears, it provides an opportunity for the country to unite in finding a solution,” she said.

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Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille said a preliminary report on the fire would be released on Friday.

“We’ve brought in a fire expert who will determine exactly where the fire started together with a fire forensic team; their work has also started today.

“We have been informed by the professional team that we can expect a preliminary report by Friday morning about their preliminary findings,” De Lille said.

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The cost of repairs would be evaluated by a professional team of engineers who were also focusing on the time-frame of repairs, she said.

ANC Parliament chief whip Pemmy Majodina said: “The upkeep of our deteriorating Parliament is increasing on a daily basis. The facilities are very old, the building is very old and it needs major renovations.

“Calling for the move of Parliament to Pretoria – that call has been there but the city of Parliament is based on the constitution, so we have to change the constitution first. I think it is insensitive at the moment.”

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DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone who was also on the scene, said: “I am very emotional. Parliament has been my home for 12 years, we spend more time here than in our own homes.

“When I saw what the chamber looked like, where the worst of humanity met the best of humanity, I can’t imagine not sitting in that chamber in my usual seat. Watching the flames yesterday was devastating.”

The Hawks said the 49-year-old man who was arrested would appear in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court today.

He has been charged with housebreaking, theft and arson, and will also be charged under the National Key Point Act.

Hawks spokesperson Nomathandazo Mbambo said: “The suspect was allegedly caught with suspected stolen property after he gained entry to the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town unauthorised.

“He was spotted by members of the Protection and Security Services (PSS) when they noticed the building was on fire. The matter was referred to the Hawks’ Crimes Against the State (Cats) team for further investigation. The motive for his actions is subject to investigation.”

The cause of the fire was still unknown and the building was meant to be handed over to the forensic investigators. However, due to the flare-up, this will be delayed.

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Cape Argus

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