Parliament fire: President confirms one person has been taken in for questioning
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PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa said someone has been taken in for questioning in connection with the fire that broke out in Parliament on Sunday morning.
Speaking outside Parliament to assess the damage, Ramaphosa said the cause of the fire is still being investigated.
“I believe somebody is being held right now and they are being questioned. We need to go a lot deeper into how this type of event can take place and what measures we need to take going forward,” the president said.
Ramaphosa also said the fire was a terrible setback just a day after the send-off of the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at nearby St George’s Cathedral.
“To wake up to the devastating news of the burning down of the National Assembly of Parliament is a really terrible setback from what we were basking in yesterday.
“The Arch would have been devastated as well, because this is a place that he not only supported, prayed for and wanted to see as the repository of the democracy that he worked so hard for,” he said.
The fire affected both the Old Assembly and the National Assembly of the buildings of Parliament.
The firefighters were trying to control the fire that affected the National Assembly Chamber at midday. Although the fire was contained in the chambers, part of the ceiling has collapsed.
Teams were on stand-by and measures were put in place to protect Tuynhuys, which is the Cape Town office of the Presidency.
Ramaphosa said notwithstanding the damage caused to the National Assembly, the work of Parliament would carry on.
He said the praise and the applause should really go to the fire officials of the City of Cape Town battling the fire.
“They have done a fantastic job… Had they not responded in the six minutes that they told me they responded within, I think we would be talking about the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces being in complete ashes.
“They intervened at the right time,” he said.
“Their coming here has saved a very important national asset of our government. This is a national key asset and, of course, we are still to go into what caused the fire, and the fire having started in the NCOP section and how it then moved to the National Assembly.”
Ramaphosa also said the country should be grateful that the National Assembly was “not razed to ashes”.
“Our key officials, who are always there on guard, have really acted with great capability and speed, and we thank them. We also thank them for having mobilised the number of units and also all vehicles they deployed here,” he said.
“It does show there are certain things that do work, the even as you might think the wheels are coming off on everything. The fact that they were here in a short space of time is something we should be grateful for,” the president said.
“Much as it is disappointing and devastating, there is something that we can be grateful for. These men and women in uniform go into the most dangerous places that you can ever think of and risk their limbs and lives.
“We thank them and thank you very much for being here,” Ramaphosa said to the media.
Addressing the media earlier, National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula expressed shock. “I want to express our shock at this development and also our sadness,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
She noted that the fire broke out while preparations were under way for the opening of Parliament next month, when Ramaphosa is to deliver his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on February 10.
“Yes, it is sad this has happened because Parliament is a national key point. This is an appropriate place where the president should address the nation from.
“But what has happened should not prevent us from listening to the Sona,” she said. Mapisa-Nqakula added that the Sona would continue as planned.
“Our job is to find an alternative venue from where the president can address the nation,” she said.
“There will obviously be a meeting with the executive management. There will be a discussion on the form of the sitting, whether to continue with a hybrid address or at a different venue.
“We are determined to ensure the Sona continues,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille said it was sad to see the House of Democracy go up in flames.
De Lille also thanked the firefighters who came to the scene within six minutes.
She said they had been able to contain the fire in the chamber of the National Assembly, where part of the ceiling has collapsed.
“We are putting measures in place to protect Tuynhuys, where teams are on stand-by to prevent that.
“We cannot make conclusive findings or even speculate about where the fire started. As we speak, the forensic teams are busy with their investigations,” she said.
The minister also said they would protect the bust of former president Nelson Mandela in front of the National Assembly.
“We want to give the assurance that the teams are trying their best to contain the fire.”
De Lille also said they were pulling together to stop the fire, as soon as possible.
“It might take two to three hours to get the fire under control,” she said, adding that they could not speculate until the full investigation has been concluded.