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Parliament fire: find real suspect, officials told

Zandile Christmas Mafe made his first court appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday facing five charges. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency

Zandile Christmas Mafe made his first court appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday facing five charges. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency

Published Jan 5, 2022

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CAPE TOWN - Lawyers representing the man accused of being behind the fire in Parliament have rejected the Hawks’ claim that their client was found in possession of items stolen from Parliament, saying the Khayelitsha resident was being made a scapegoat.

Zandile Christmas Mafe made his first court appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday facing five charges, – housebreaking with intent to steal and theft, two counts of arson, possession of an explosive device and destruction of essential infrastructure relating to the fire in Parliament.

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Mafe – originally from Mahikeng but residing in Cape Town for more than six years – had allegedly been in possession of “laptops, crockery and documents” at the time of his arrest, according to the charge sheet.

Hawks spokesperson Thandi Mbambo said while they thought there might be other people involved, the focus was still on (Mafe) at this stage. “He was arrested by members of the SAPS who are working in Parliament,” said Mbambo.

But speaking outside court on Tuesday, Mafe’s lawyer, Luvuyo Godla, said his client “vehemently denied and rejected these charges and would be pleading not guilty”.

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(Mafe) “was not found in possession of anything”, said Godla. “This is not the person who is supposed to be apprehended. This one is a scapegoat,” said Godla.

He had argued in court to have his client immediately released on bail as he posed no flight risk, and while reports had indicated the man was believed to be homeless, Godla said Mafe had a fixed address in Khayelitsha Site B.

“Our submission is this: surely this poor man is made a scapegoat for failures of the executive and legislature.

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There is no point to come and say we are not ready, when in fact they allege that the most important point of the country has been destroyed, yet they didn’t do anything,” said Godla.

Mafe is expected to face more charges, said National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila.

“The State requested the court to postpone the case for the next seven days for bail information, such as the confirmation of his residential address, whether he has any assets, any pending cases, any pending warrants of arrests against him and any previous convictions.

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The State also requested the postponement in order to determine the schedule under which the accused will be charged as it intends to charge him under Schedule 5, while the defence insists that he must be charged under Schedule 1.

“The postponement will also provide the investigating officer, Colonel Theron, with an opportunity to visit the crime scene to determine the extent of the damage.

The crime scene was still active until late (on Monday) which made it inaccessible. The State will oppose (Mafe’s) bail application which he intends to bring at his next appearance,” said Ntabazalila.

The matter has been postponed to January 11 to allow for further investigations and for bail information to be collected.

Talking to the Cape Times on Tuesday, Mafe’s neighbour, Maggie Basse, described him as a loner.

“He did not talk much, he would just greet and continue with what he was doing, and that would be because he did not understand isiXhosa. He only spoke Afrikaans and siSwati, if I am not mistaken. Sometimes I would see him doing his laundry and at times washing dishes.

“We were shocked to see him on TV,” said Basse.

Cyberwarfare specialist and head of the Information Science Department at Stellenbosch University, Professor Bruce Watson, said key points like Parliament should be far better protected.

“It’s something that requires a certain level of diligence, commitment and ongoing investment because you can’t fall behind with that kind of thing.

If you take a look at various parliaments overseas ... many countries also subscribe to a certain measure of openness, which is what we value in our democracy, but at the same time you can also have very unobtrusive security that protects the Parliament and related buildings.

“There are new technologies with lots of types of sensors and many people in the country have that in their own homes. The fact that we as a country don’t have this is quite sad and quite shameful,” said Watson. The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure told MPs that all the systems were working in Parliament when the fire started.

“I would like to confirm and emphasise that our systems were working as intended and that they were tested quite late in December to give us that particular assurance,” the department’s acting director -general, Imtiaz Fazel, said.

Cape Times

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