Fire Reignites at South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town

Fire Reignites at South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town
Smoke rising from the Houses of Parliament, in Cape Town, South Africa, on Jan. 2, 2022. (Bruce Sutherland/City of Cape Town via AP)
The Associated Press

CAPE TOWN, South Africa—The fire that has already destroyed South Africa’s main Parliament chamber flared up again Monday about 36 hours after it started in the 130-year-old complex of historic buildings, authorities said.

Firefighters have been sent back to the Parliament precinct in the center of Cape Town after flames re-appeared on the roof of the main Parliament building in the late afternoon. More than 30 firefighters were battling the fire again, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse told the News 24 website.

Before the blaze reignited, authorities had said it had been contained and had begun to assess the damage. The fire had started around 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Still a mystery is the role of a man who has been arrested and is being questioned by police in connection with the fire. The man is due to appear in court on Tuesday and authorities weren’t commenting further on his involvement or any possible motives, other than to say he would likely be charged with breaking and entering, theft and arson.

The man is also facing charges under South Africa’s National Key Points Act, a security law that restricts access to government buildings and other places of national importance.

The man, who has not been named, was arrested Sunday at the scene, authorities said. South African media reported he had to be rescued from the fire, while questions have been raised over if there was a deliberate attack on the seat of South Africa’s democracy.

Parliament was closed for the holidays and no injuries have been reported in the fire.

Extensive damage has been done to the stately white and red brick buildings in the Parliament precinct. The fire had already burned down the chamber in the National Assembly building where South African legislators meet to pass laws, Parliament said in a statement.

“We are indeed devastated,” Parliament said.

“We stand in front of a broken Parliament, a burnt down Parliament,” lawmaker Natasha Mazzone said at the gates of the complex before the fire reignited. “Look at our roof, our beautiful roof, burnt, collapsed.”

“The National Assembly chamber is completely destroyed. I’ve seen it for myself. Everything is destroyed. This will take an operation second to none to rebuild,” she said.

Two other buildings had also been badly damaged in the inferno, Parliament said, including the original Parliament building that had been built in the 1880s and had weathered much of South Africa’s tumultuous history, including British colonialism and the apartheid regime.

The South African Parliament moved to the New Assembly building, built in the style of the old building, in the 1980s and it had been the seat of the national legislature for the momentous end of apartheid and the country’s transition to democracy under the presidency of Nelson Mandela.

Firefighters had been working on “hotspots” in the National Assembly building on Monday morning, Carelse said, but it was largely contained at that stage and the fire crews had been scaled back.

As the fire was originally brought under control, what was left was blackened, unrecognizable ruins inside some of the rooms.

“This is an incredibly sad day if you are a normal human being, to stand in front of this building and realize what we’ve lost,” lawmaker Mazzone said.

Patricia de Lille, the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, said that someone had turned off a valve which prevented a fire sprinkler system from functioning.

She said the investigation into the cause of the fire has been taken over by the Hawks, a South African police unit that deals with serious and high-profile crimes. An initial report on the fire from a special fire investigating team would be completed by Friday, she said.

By Gerald Imray