Parliament fire: John Steenhuisen says DA’s focus was to get Parliament business back up and running
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Cape Town - DA leader John Steenhuisen said on Tuesday the official opposition’s focus in the next few weeks and months was to get Parliament’s business back up and running as seamlessly as possible.
“It is absolutely important that Parliament’s business is not derailed by these tragic events of the last few days,” Steenhuisen said.
He made the statement while speaking to the media outside the national legislature following the gutting of the national Assembly and Old Assembly by fire.
Steenhuisen paid tribute to the firefighters and the first responders to the fire who were on the scene on Sunday to try to get the blaze under control and also probably saved the buildings.
He also thanked the City of Cape Town for offering alternative facilities to host the State of the Nation Address (Sona) on February 10.
The leader of the official opposition said the National Assembly was the repository of a great deal of South African history, priceless artefacts and literacy work.
“It is where history was made and it is where the country transformed itself into a democracy,” he said, adding that it was also a scene for the best and worst scenes in the country.
“We hope that like a phoenix rising from the ashes, our Parliament too will rise from the ashes.”
Steenhuisen stated that the national legislature was more than brick and mortar, saying it was entrusted by the Constitution to pass laws, hold the executive accountable and be a forum for public debate.
“This can’t be disrupted by these events no matter how catastrophic they have been.”
He said they would ensure that Parliament was kept running.
“As the leader of opposition our focus is to ensure Sona takes place on the time and designated period and we get together to discuss Sona.
“We need to ensure the business of the state and the businesses of Parliament continue uninterrupted so that we can discuss those issues that matter to South Africans.”
Steenhuisen also said they noted the arrest of a suspect who appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday in connection with the fire that broke out in the national legislature.
“We must not allow scapegoats to take place,” he said before recalling suspects arrested in the wake of the high-profile break-in in the office of former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who walked free.
“We need to get to the bottom of why this fire started, how it was allowed to spread and why it was able to do so in such an unchecked manner, what systems were working and what systems were not working,” he said.
DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone said her party would push for an independent investigation into the fire in addition to the police criminal investigation.
“We strongly believe that you can’t investigate yourself. We do believe that an independent forensic investigation is needed,” Mazzone said.
She also said from the damage caused and statements made by National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, “it looks like something more sinister than simply a homeless man jumping over a fence and starting a fire”.
Her colleague Samantha Graham said they were most concerned by the fact that the fire was allowed to go unchecked.
“We believe a lot of fire protection systems that should have been in place to protect our beautiful heritage were not in place,” Graham said before demanding the yet to be made public report that was commissioned to assess the safety and security matters in Parliament in 2019.
She listed some of the findings of the roper which included the need to review the ventilation design and fire protection as well as non-compliance with fire regulations, among others.
“Public works had knowledge of the fact that our systems were deficient and that should there be a massive fire they would be unable to address this,” Graham said.