SA Parliament fire: ANC internal fallout blamed for arson, man arrested

A fire broke out in The National Parliament building in Cape Town. A total of 36 firefighters and six firefighting appliances are battling a fire in Parliament Avenue. Photographer: Armand Hough/African News Agency(ANA)

PUBLIC Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille says the Hawks have taken over the investigation regarding a man arrested in connection with the fire that broke out at Parliament on Sunday morning.

Briefing the media outside Parliament, De Lille confirmed the initial announcement, made by President Cyril Ramaphosa, saying a person had been arrested.

“I can confirm from (Western Cape SAPS commissioner Thembisile) Patekile, the docket is handed over to the Hawks. It is the role of the Hawks to investigate attacks on political institutions,” she said.

De Lille also said the suspect was arrested inside Parliament and that CCTV cameras showed someone was in the parliamentary building from the early hours of the morning.

“We will have a report tomorrow on what happened,” De Lille said.

Earlier, Ramaphosa revealed that someone was taken in for questioning in connection with the fire.

He said the cause of the fire was yet to be investigated.

“I believe somebody is being held right now and they are being questioned,” he said.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo confirmed that a man was taken for questioning.

“I can, indeed, confirm that we have taken a 50 to 51-year-old man for questioning with regards to the fire at Parliament today,” Naidoo said.

The fire broke out just after 6am and firefighters were dispatched within six minutes to battle the flames in the Old Assembly building and then the adjoining National Assembly building, where part of the ceiling collapsed.

According to Smith, the fire started in offices on the third floor and spread through the roof.

Initial reports had indicated that that fire started on the third floor.

Ramaphosa said there would be investigations into what caused the fire, which started in the Old Assembly building, and how it then moved to the National Assembly.

He also revealed that the fire sprinkler system did not work.

“It does seem like the sprinkler system did not work as it was supposed to. We need to go a lot deeper into how this type of event can take place and what measures we need to take going forward,” he said.

De Lille said the report they received was that there was a fire drill before Parliament closed to test whether fire sprinklers were working as standard procedure.

“The drill was done and everything was in order. Someone closed one of the valves, so there was no water to trigger the automatic sprinkler system coming on,” she said.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said it was outrageous such a thing happened.

“We will say right now, whoever did this was out of order. Whoever did it is an upfront to democracy,” Tsenoli said.

He also said they had no words to express their outrage, whatever the source of the fire.

“The reports that are to come from investigations that have started will shed more light. We would like to get information from the people who work hard from various disciplines,” Tsenoli said.

“People are working through the structures to determine what happened and what could have led to this development,” he said.

De Lille said fire forensic teams were already on the site.

“As we speak, the forensic teams are busy at work,” she said, adding that the police and state security were also at the site.

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