An unnamed 48-year-old man has been arrested on charges of theft and arson after a part of the South African Parliament building in Cape Town was destroyed on Sunday.
Cape Town municipal authorities said that the third floor of the building and the roof had collapsed completely as fire-fighters from six stations across the city battled for hours until they managed to contain the fire by late afternoon. They had responded within six minutes after the fire was reported at about six am.
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille confirmed at a media briefing on Sunday that the matter had been handed over to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), popularly known as the Hawks.
Hawks spokesperson Brig Nomthandazo Mbambo said the man had gained entrance through a back window after jumping over a fence.
“He was found with some items which were believed to have been stolen from inside the Parliament,” Mbambo told the news channel ENCA, adding that although he was not a member of Parliament, he disclosed during interrogation that he had some issues which had led to him committing the alleged acts.
President Cyril Ramaphosa also gave a media briefing earlier in the day after he was not allowed to go near the building due to safety concerns.
“This is a national key asset and we are going to go into what caused the fire. How (it) started in the Old Assembly house and then moved to the National Assembly is something that will still be investigated,” Ramaphosa said.
“We need to go a little deeper into how this type of event can take place and what measures we will need to take going forward,” Ramaphosa added as opposition parties called for heads to roll amid reports that the fire sprinkler systems had not been operational.
De Lille said someone had shut off a valve supplying water to the system.
“The report that I received is that there (previously) was a fire drill, which is a standard maintenance to test whether the fire sprinklers are working and everything was in order. What was discovered this morning was that somebody had closed off one of the valves and so there was no water to trigger that automatic sprinkler system coming on,” De Lille said.
De Lille said another briefing will be held on Monday so that Parliament can give an update on the actual damage caused by the fire.
With Ramaphosa’s Annual State of the Nation address due to be held next week, officials said moving it to another building would be considered. They also said it could be held virtually or in a hybrid form, as was the case during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.
This was the second fire at the Parliamentary buildings since last year, causing members of Parliament to express concern about both their safety and the possibility that important documents might have bene destroyed in this blaze.
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