Suspect arrested in South African parliament fire

  • Uncontrolled fire in the National Assembly building
  • Cause of fire unknown
  • Man in his 50s arrested in Parliament
  • The roof of the old assembly building has collapsed
  • No injuries reported

CAPE TOWN, Jan. 2 (Reuters) – A fire in the South African parliament caused extensive damage on Sunday, causing a roof to collapse and gutting an entire floor of a building. A man in his 50s has been arrested in connection with the fire.

The fire started early in the morning and authorities said the sprinkler system appeared to have been tampered with and therefore was not working. In the afternoon, firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze in one of the many buildings that make up the parliamentary complex in the legislative capital, Cape Town.

One person was arrested inside parliament, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille told reporters, adding that the case had been handed over to an elite police unit called the Hawks.

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“It is the role of the Hawks to investigate any attack on political institutions,” De Lille said.

Parliament said in a statement the suspect was a man in his 50s.

No injuries were reported.

The cause of the blaze was not yet known, but De Lille said that according to a report she received, a standard maintenance fire drill was conducted just before Parliament was closed for the Christmas recess. and New Years and that everything, including the sprinklers, was working.

“What was discovered this morning was that someone closed one of the valves and therefore there was no water to trigger this automatic sprinkler system,” De Lille said. , adding that CCTV footage confirmed that someone had been in the building since the early hours of the morning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters after visiting the site that the work of parliament would continue despite the fire. He also praised the firefighters for saving “our government’s very important national asset”.

Firefighters work amid the smoke after a fire broke out in the Parliament of Cape Town, South Africa. REUTERS / Sumaya Hisham

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The parliamentary complex, some of which date from 1884, consists of a group of buildings. The National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, is located in what is called the New Wing.

The upper house, or National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is located in what is known as the Old Wing or the Old Assembly, which is also used for committee meetings.

“The fire was contained in the old wing. Firefighters are currently trying to contain the blaze in the new wing, where the blaze has affected the National Assembly hall,” Parliament said in a statement.

Jean-Pierre Smith, a member of the Cape Town’s safety and security committee, said the roof of the old building had collapsed and the fire destroyed the third floor of the building, including offices and gymnasium.

He also told reporters that the parliament’s fire alarm only sounded when firefighters were already there.

By the afternoon, the smoke had partially subsided after rising for hours from the roof and entrance to the National Assembly. But Cape Town Fire Chief Jermaine Carelse said the blaze was still active and was now concentrated on the first and third floors.

The blaze, which broke out just before 6 a.m., was the second in parliament in less than a year. In March, there was a fire caused by a power failure.

“It is blatant that such a thing happened in the first place, there should be no doubt about it. Whether it was the result of security breaches, which may be apparent to some people, we don’t know.” , said the vice-president of the National Assembly said Lechesa Tsenoli.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, told reporters that the state of the nation address of Ramaphosa at a joint session of parliament would go ahead as planned on February 10, but another location is expected. to be used.

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Reporting by Shafiek Tassiem and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg Additional reporting by Jahnavi Nidumulu in Bengaluru Writing by Nqobile Dludla Editing by Frances Kerry

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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