South Africa Parliament: Suspect Charged in Fire to Appear in Court

A 49-year-old man is facing charges of arson and theft in the blaze, which started Sunday and has heavily damaged legislative buildings in Cape Town.,

A 49-year-old man is facing charges of arson and theft in the blaze, which started Sunday and has heavily damaged legislative buildings in Cape Town.

CAPE TOWN — A fire that ripped through South Africa’s Houses of Parliament on Sunday flared up again on Monday afternoon, fire officials said. The cause of the fire was being investigated, and a man who is in police custody in connection with the blaze is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday, officials said.

Books and bookshelves had been smoldering within the National Assembly building, officials said earlier on Monday, and some burned areas were still extremely hot, said JP Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security.

Those who saw the damage described the buildings of both the historic Old Assembly and the New Assembly as “gutted.”

Image

A fire that first broke out Sunday at the National Assembly, part of the Parliament Houses complex, flared up again on Monday.Credit…Rodger Bosch/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The 49-year-old man was arrested on Sunday morning. As the fire burned and firefighters raced to the scene, security personnel spotted the man. He had gained unauthorized entry and was found to be carrying stolen property, the police said.

He will appear on Tuesday in a Cape Town magistrate’s court on charges of arson, theft and housebreaking, the police’s directorate for priority crime investigation said in a statement. The statement did not identify the suspect further.

Smoke began to rise above the building around 6 a.m. Sunday, Mr. Smith said. The fire was active in two distinct areas, raising suspicion among officials about why the buildings in between had not burned.

Image

President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to journalists in Cape Town on Sunday. Credit…Rodger Bosch/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Monday morning, the interior of the National Assembly was “extensively destroyed by fire, water, heat and smoke,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said the Parliament complex was severely damaged.The facade of the National Assembly building also had “major cracks,” he added. Forensic investigators were assessing the scale of the destruction, Mr. Smith said.

The fire spread from an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly building toward a gym and to rooftops.

Image

A firefighter at the Houses of Parliament on Sunday, in an image provided by the City of Cape Town.Credit…Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town, via Associated Press

No injuries or fatalities have been reported. Parliamentary officials said they were not aware of any sensitive documents that might have been affected by the fire. But offices belonging to lawmakers in the African National Congress as well as in two smaller opposition parties — the Good Party and the National Freedom Party — were among those badly damaged.

Parliament was not in session because it had been closed for the holidays. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, the first major event of the year on the parliamentary calendar, is set to be held Feb. 10.

Cape Town is no stranger to fires, and wildfires on the slopes of its famed Table Mountain have had a devastating impact in recent years. Last year, a wildfire spread to the University of Cape Town, where it devoured the special collections library — home to one of the most expansive collections of first-edition books, films, photographs and other primary sources documenting the history of Southern Africa.

Image

A photo provided by the City of Cape Town shows the destroyed roof at the Houses of Parliament on Sunday.Credit…Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town, via Associated Press

Leave a Reply