South Africa parliament fire brought ‘under control’

Some 70 firefighters have battled to contain the blaze that broke out in the early hours on Sunday.

Fire burns at the Houses of Parliament, in Cape Town
Police said a 49-year-old suspect, who was inside parliament, had been apprehended and will appear in court this week [Elmond Jiyane/GCIS/Handout via Reuters]

The huge fire that destroyed parts of South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town has been brought under control after some 70 firefighters battled to contain the blaze, which broke out in the early hours on Sunday.

“The fire was brought under control during the night,” spokesman Jermaine Carelse said on Monday, adding that flames had yet to be extinguished in the oldest part of the building.

Public Works Minister Patricia De Lille said at a press conference at 11:30 GMT on Monday that a team of engineers had been brought in to assess the damage. The temperature inside the building was about 100 degrees Celsius, down from about 400 on Sunday, De Lille said.

Experts were also brought in to determine the cause of the fire. A preliminary report will be available by Friday, according to the official.

Police said a 49-year-old suspect, who was inside the parliament, had been apprehended and would appear in court this week.

“A man has been arrested inside the parliament, he’s still being interrogated. We have opened a criminal case. He has been arrested and will appear in court on Tuesday,” police spokeswoman Thandi Mbambo said.

He is suspected of having tampered with the sprinklers, which failed to activate.

Premier Alan Winde on Monday said “no stone must be left unturned in determining the cause of the fire, with the findings of a full investigation being made public so that this terrible incident is prevented in the future.”

“The National Parliament, housed in Cape Town, is not just a series of buildings. It is the home of our democracy, which we must care for and protect,” he added.

The fire broke out in the parliament complex’s oldest wing, which was completed in 1884 and has wood-panelled rooms. After ravaging the older wing of the building, the flames spread to the newer parts of the complex that are currently in use.

As day dawned, thick plumes of black smoke could be seen enveloping the imposing Victorian facade.

Videos shared on social media showed giant flames leaping from the roof.

Officials said the entire part housing the National Assembly was destroyed.

“The entire chamber where the members sit… has burned down,” parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo said, adding that the blaze had apparently been sparked in two separate areas of the complex.

The roof of the Old Assembly building and parts of the ceiling at the New Assembly building collapsed.

Jean-Pierre Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, told reporters the entire complex had suffered extensive water and fire damage and “nothing” was left of the historic part where parliament had kept treasures, including some 4,000 heritage and artworks, some dating back to the 17th century.

The parliament building houses a collection of rare books and the original copy of the former Afrikaans national anthem Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Voice of South Africa), which was already damaged.

National Council of Provinces Chairperson, Amos Masondo, told the press on Monday that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Chamber Offices, Parliamentary Library, Museum, and a tapestry were all spared from damage.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies