Durban - Arson is being investigated after a second major fire destroyed opposition party offices in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature in Pietermaritzburg.
On Wednesday night, offices used by the DA were destroyed. A month ago the IFP’s offices were razed.
Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said that while arson was suspected the circumstances were unclear.
DA KZN chief whip Mark Steele said nine rooms, including offices used by six MPLs, two support staff offices and a boardroom were destroyed. The roof was also destroyed. He said it was unclear what might have caused the fire although electrical wiring might have been to blame.
“There’s extensive damage from what we can see from outside. Nobody has been allowed inside. The police are keeping everybody behind the security barrier.”
Steele said he was frustrated by the lack of communication from the legislature, saying he only learnt of the fire when staff arrived for work on Thursday morning.
Legislature spokesman Wesley Canham said the fire had started at about 11pm and police and the fire department were called in “immediately”.
“This morning we had a police investigation team on site but the place was cordoned off because we are waiting for the forensic investigators.”
The extent of the damage was yet to be confirmed although the top and ground floors
had been affected.
“We have found alternative space for the DA,” he said.
He added that the legislature was still waiting for the report on last month’s fire in the IFP offices.
The IFP leader in the legislature, Blessed Gwala, said he suspected the fires could be linked to the proposal to relocate the legislature.
“At the last sitting of the KZN Legislature a member of the ruling party, in motivating for a new legislature complex to be built, stated that the legislature should move out of these buildings because they had been built by colonial masters.
“A few days after that our (IFP) offices were burnt down and now the offices of the official opposition have been destroyed. We have not been able to use our offices since that time.
“It is too much of a coincidence that only the offices of the two largest opposition parties have been destroyed,” said Gwala.
His party viewed the fires as “a political conspiracy either to disrupt the work of the opposition or a desperate attempt to add strength to the call for the building of a new legislature complex in Pietermaritzburg – or both”.
The DA said it had a number of concerns about the building which it intended raising with legislature Speaker Lydia Johnson. “They must investigate thoroughly,” Steele said.
The DA had complained about maintenance issues including electrical connections and the air-conditioning. “Obviously there is an issue of maintenance in the building,” he said. Security was lax and needed to be addressed. There were also no smoke detectors.
“There is supposed to be closed-circuit TV monitoring, but clearly nobody noticed there was a fire,” he said.
He said the DA would allow internal investigations to unfold but would also conduct its own. “It doesn’t look like it started in one place,” he said.