A man has been arrested in Cape Town after a massive fire engulfed and severely damaged the Houses of Parliament. The fire which was attended by more than 30 firefighters took hours to bring under control.
A police spokesperson said: “we have arrested a man who is facing charges of arson, housebreaking and theft, and would appear in court on Tuesday.” Brigadier Nomthandazo Mbambo said the suspect is also expected to be charged under the National Key Points Act, which protects sites of strategic importance.
The fire, which caused extensive damage to the 150 year old building with its wooden floors and panelling, was started on Sunday when huge clouds of black smoke filled the sky and large flames came out from the roof.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called it a “terrible and devastating event”, as he vowed parliament’s work would continue. Parliament is currently not in session due to the holidays.
The fire apparently started on the third floor offices and quickly spread to the National Assembly (the parliament’s lower house) chamber.
South Africa’s parliament confirmed that there had been “significant damage” to the New Assembly Wing of the building, which includes the National Assembly chamber where lawmakers sit.
Ramaphosa, who visited the scene, said news of the fire was a “terrible setback to what we were basking in yesterday”, and added that the recently departed Archbishop Tutu would also have been devastated.
He said the building’s sprinkler system had not functioned properly, and praised firefighters for responding to the fire in minutes.
Jean-Pierre Smith, a member of the Cape Town mayoral committee for safety and security, told reporters that the sprinkler and fire alarm systems had malfunctioned and that the roof above the old assembly hall was “completely gone” and further damage inside the old chamber had not yet been evaluated.
“It is not possible to see whether it’s damaged. We hope it is not because it has so many historical artefacts, but you can’t gain access to it without breaking the doors down and we don’t want to do that,” he said.
Many will question how a tighly controlled building was accessed and why the fire detection and prevention systems malfunctioned in a country where there is much unhappiness about the maintenance of state assets under the new government. There will also now doubt be recriminations over the massive fire that engulfed the Houses of Parliament which will not only disrupt parliament but also costs millions to repair in a country where poverty is rife.
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