Fire at South Africa’s parliament flares up again

Authorities say wind reignited fire that has already destroyed the parliament chamber.

Firefighters work at the national parliament as the fire flared up again, in Cape Town.
Firefighters work at the national parliament as the fire flared up again in Cape Town [Mike Hutchings/Reuters]

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

“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.

Al Jazeera’s Jillian Wolf, reporting from Cape Town, said around 50 firefighters were on the scene tackling the blaze.

Sunday’s fire caused the roof of the New Wing housing the lower chamber National Assembly to collapse. The roof of the Old Wing, which dates back to 1884 and houses the upper chamber National Council of Provinces (NCOP), also partially collapsed.

“There will be significant costs associated with refurbishing this building. The interior of the national assembly is completely unrecognisable. Everything that the fire could destroy has been destroyed,” Al Jazeera’s Wolf said.

Flames and smoke rise over a roof as the fire at the parliament flared up again [Sumaya Hisham/Reuters]

Suspect charged

Police have charged a 49-year-old man with arson and other offences including theft and he was expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

The speaker of the National Assembly said arson if confirmed, would represent an attack on the country’s democracy.

“It is a very abnormal kind of situation,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

“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,” she told a news briefing.

Earlier on Monday, before the flames flared anew, the number of firefighters on the scene had been reduced from 70 to just a dozen as only a few sources of the fire remained. They were dealing with remaining “hotspots”, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse told the News 24 website.

The minister in charge, Patricia de Lille, said earlier that the heat in the building had dropped from 400 to 100 degrees Celsius (752 to 212 Fahrenheit). It was therefore not yet possible for investigators to enter the complex.

Firefighters work at the parliament as the fire flared up again, in Cape Town, South Africa,
Dozens of firefighters were tackling the blaze after it flared up again on Monday [Sumaya Hisham/Reuters]

Security breach

In a separate statement, an elite police unit known as the Hawks said the suspect was believed to have gained entry to the parliament through a window in one of the offices and investigations were continuing into the matter.

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

Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to parliament – currently set for February 10 – would still go ahead, legislators would still debate and approve the budget and committees would continue their work.

Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security, said 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, the public works and infrastructure minister said.

Source: News Agencies