Sabotage suspected in fire at South Africa's parliament, man arrested

Fire in South African parliament

Fire in South African parliament

Sabotage was suspected in the massive blaze that engulfed part of South Africa’s parliament on Sunday, and a man in his 50s has been arrested.

The fire, which began early in the morning, caused extensive damage, collapsing the roof and gutting an entire floor in one building.

Authorities said the sprinkler system appeared to have been tampered with and so did not work.

By afternoon, firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze in one of the several buildings that make up the parliament complex in the legislative capital, Cape Town.

A 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.

“It’s 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.

There were no reports of any injuries.

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The cause of the blaze was not yet known.

But De Lille said a standard maintenance fire drill had been conducted just before parliament closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Everything, including the sprinklers, was working.

“What was discovered this morning is that somebody has closed one of the valves and so then there was no water to trigger that automatic sprinkler system coming on,” De Lille said, adding that CCTV footage confirmed that somebody was in the building from the early hours of the morning.

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

The parliamentary complex, some of which dates back to 1884, consists of a cluster of buildings. The National Assembly, or lower House of Parliament, is situated in what is known as the New Wing.

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

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters that Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address to a joint session of parliament would go ahead as planned on Feb.10 but an alternative venue would have to be used.

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