South Africa parliament: Fire

A man has been arrested after a large fire severely damaged the Houses of Parliament in the South African city of Cape Town.

The suspect, who is not a parliamentary employee, will appear in court on Tuesday, facing charges of arson, housebreaking and theft, police said.

Firefighters worked for hours to extinguish the blaze.

“The fire and rescue service confirms that the fire at parliament has flared up. The void beneath the roof sheeting of the National Assembly is on fire,” a spokesman for the city’s fire services said on Monday afternoon.

President Cyril Ramaphosa called it a “terrible and devastating event”, as he vowed parliament’s work would continue.

Footage from the scene on Sunday showed a plume of black smoke filling the sky, with huge flames coming out from the roof of the building.

Officials say the fire started on the third floor offices and quickly spread to the National Assembly (the parliament’s lower house) chamber, reports the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko in Cape Town.

Suspect charged
Police have charged a 49-year-old man with arson and other offences including theft and he was expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

The speaker of the National Assembly said arson if confirmed, would represent an attack on the country’s democracy.

“It is a very abnormal kind of situation,” said Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

“The question that even a young child would ask is: ‘How is it possible that fire which started in some part of the Old Assembly would find itself to the new chamber? We don’t know,” she told a news briefing.

Earlier on Monday, before the flames flared anew, the number of firefighters on the scene had been reduced from 70 to just a dozen as only a few sources of the fire remained. They were dealing with remaining “hotspots”, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse told the News 24 website.

The minister in charge, Patricia de Lille, said earlier that the heat in the building had dropped from 400 to 100 degrees Celsius (752 to 212 Fahrenheit). It was therefore not yet possible for investigators to enter the complex.

Firefighters work at the parliament as the fire flared up again, in Cape Town, South Africa,

Smoke began to rise in the legislative complex around 6 a.m. Sunday, Mr. Smith said. The fire was active in two distinct areas, raising suspicion among officials about why the buildings in between had not burned.

On late Monday afternoon, more than 30 firefighters were sent back to the Parliament compound in the center of Cape Town after flames reappeared on the roof of the main Parliament building, The Associated Press reported.

On Monday morning, the interior of the National Assembly was “extensively destroyed by fire, water, heat and smoke,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said the Parliament complex was severely damaged. The facade of the National Assembly building also had “major cracks,” he added. Forensic investigators were assessing the scale of the destruction, Mr. Smith said.

The fire spread from an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly building toward a gym and to rooftops.

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