A burning debate: who’s to blame for Parly’s fire?

South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town went up in flames on 2 January.  Firefighters were quickly on the scene and the fire was extinguished; it flared up again the next day because of strong winds and was again stamped out.🧯 Thankfully no one was hurt, as Parliament was in recess, but the building itself is in tatters and repairing the damages is likely to cost as much as R1 billion, Public Works acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel said. 

Unfortunately, the building isn’t insured – this is the case for government property portfolios in some parts of the world, including SA, as it’s extremely expensive to insure huge portfolios.  A post-incident report compiled by the City of Cape Town’s fire service showed that the sprinkler system did not activate because it had not been serviced since 2017 and valves appeared to be closed; there’s not enough evidence to show if fire alarms were functional. Parliament houses a range of historical documents, art and artefacts, but fortunately most were saved, reportedly thanks to a fire door that was installed as a precaution after a fire in the building early last year. 

A 49-year-old man said to be living in Khayelitsha, Zandile Christmas Mafe, is currently the prime arson suspect and has been arrested and appeared in court twice. The state says camera footage shows that Mafe entered the building as early as 2am on Sunday, around three or four hours before the fire broke out, but his lawyer denies this and authorities have not released the footage. Prosecutors say Mafe suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He started a 30-day observation at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital today to see if he is fit to stand trial.

This means the State of the Nation Address will take place in Cape Town City Hall next month. But the fire has reignited (sorry!) calls by the EFF and others that Parliament should move to Pretoria, also home to the Union Buildings, for cost-saving reasons. 

Meanwhile, on 5 January police arrested 36-year-old Paul Makauta, a convicted murderer out on parole, for breaking the windows of the Constitutional Court using a hammer. 😓 Makauta appeared in the Hillbrow Magistrates Court last Friday on charges of malicious damage to property.

Some are calling these incidents an attack on our democracy. We’re glad the justice system responded quickly. 🤞🏽

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 13 January 2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.