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Person arrested for South Africa's parliament fire, minister says

Christian Fernsby |
South African Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia De Lille on Sunday said a person was arrested following the outbreak of a fire at the parliament early in the day.

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"It's confirmed that a person has been arrested and I can also confirm from General Bheki Cele (Minister of Police). The docket has now been handed over to the Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation of the South African police), because it's the role of the Hawks to investigate any attack on political institutions," De Lille told media outside the parliament in her last briefing for the fire on the day, in Cape Town, legislative capital of South Africa.

The person was arrested inside the parliament according to the police report, she said.

The old assembly building and the lower house National Assembly have been on fire since early this morning. The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Cape Town's Fire and Rescue Services received a call of of a parliament building alight at 6:12 a.m. and the first fire appliance arrived within about 6 minutes.

The fire gutted the 3rd floor of the old wing, including the office space and the gym, and its roof collapsed and has gone, said Cape Town's Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security Jean-Pierre (JP) Smith, adding that fire also spread to adjacent building but has been stopped.

The structural ceiling of the the National Assembly Wing collapsed and initial reports indicated the fire started in an office space, he said in fire updates. About 70 fire staff members are on the scene, according to him.

Cape Town municipality said it will provide its Council Chamber for sittings of the National Assembly, as well as the Grand Parade and City Hall for the State of the Nation Address scheduled on February 10, 2022.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa promised a deep investigation into the fire when visiting the scene. "We need to go a lot deeper, a lot deeper into how this type of event can take place and what measures we will need to take going forward," Ramaphosa addressed media outside the parliament.

The president said the fire first started at the hall of the old assembly building, then moved to the National Assembly.

He also commended key officials for their great capability, speed and resource mobilization in response to the fire, and said Speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is rushing to the scene from the neighboring province the Eastern Cape by car as she couldn't get a flight.

The fire has been contained in the old wing and firefighters are currently trying to control the fire in the new wing, where the fire has affected the National Assembly chamber, the parliament said in a statement earlier, adding that no person has been injured.

Besides De Lille, the Deputy Minister of State Security Zizi Kodwa, the South African Police Services and security personnel of Parliament are in the parliamentary precinct to assess the situation, according to the parliament.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who visited the site of the fire yesterday, said he was deeply saddened by the scenes he had witnessed.

“This is a disastrous event that should sadden all of us… Notwithstanding the damage that has been done to this precinct, the work of Parliament will carry on.”

He said the speedy response of the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town in mobilising the response to this emergency was appreciated.

“The real praise and applause belongs to the fire officials and crews of the City of Cape Town who have done a great job.

“While they have worked to stop Parliament from being razed to ashes, it is very clear that this fire has devastated the parliamentary precinct and its contents and assets, including Parliament’s historical treasures of heritage,” he said.

The Presiding Officers of Parliament have assured that all efforts will be made to limit any disruption to the business of Parliament following the fire.


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