South Africa firefighters struggle as parliament blaze flares up again

South African firefighters are struggling to extinguish another fire at the complex housing the country’s parliament in Cape Town, a day after a blaze swept through the buildings.

Police have charged a 49-year-old man with arson and other offences including theft. He is expected to appear in court on Tuesday. The speaker of the national assembly said arson, if confirmed, would represent an attack on South Africa’s democracy.

“The fire and rescue service confirms that the fire at parliament has flared up. The void beneath the roof sheeting of the national assembly is on fire,” a spokesman for the city’s fire services said on Monday afternoon.

Sunday’s fire caused the roof of the New Wing, which houses the lower chamber, to collapse. The roof of the Old Wing, which dates back to 1884 and houses the upper chamber, also partially collapsed.

“It is a very abnormal kind of situation,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the speaker of the national assembly. “The question that even a young child would ask is: ‘How is it possible that fire which started in some part of the old assembly would find itself to the new chamber? We don’t know.”

In a separate statement, an elite police unit known as the Hawks said the arrested man was believed to have gained entry to the parliament through a window in one of the offices.

“There is a possibility of other charges being added as there was a security breach here,” Brig Nomthandazo Mbambo, a spokesperson, told eNCA television.

Mapisa-Nqakula said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to parliament on 10 February would still go ahead, and that lawmakers would still debate and approve the budget and committees would continue their work.

Earlier on Monday, before fire broke out again, firefighters had managed to extinguish most of the blaze that started on Sunday and were just dealing with remaining “hotspots on the fourth floor of the national assembly”.

“Lots of books and bookshelves [are] smouldering,” said Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security, adding that the interior of the national assembly had been destroyed by fire, water and smoke.

A preliminary report on potential costs and timelines for refurbishment is expected on Friday, said Patricia De Lille says, the public works and infrastructure minister.


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