Person arrested after major fire in South African parliament

A man in his 50s has been arrested after a major fire in the South African parliament caused extensive damage, collapsing the roof and emptying an entire floor of a building.

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.

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

There are no reports of injuries.

A general view of the fire in the South African Parliament precinct in Cape Town

(Reuters)

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

“What was discovered this morning was that someone had closed one of the valves, and therefore there was no water to trigger this automatic sprinkler system,” said Ms De Lille. , adding that CCTV footage confirmed someone was in the building. from 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 a “very important national asset of our government”.

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 control the blaze in the new wing, where the blaze has affected the National Assembly hall, ”the presidents said in a statement.

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

Mr Carelse said no injuries were reported. Parliament was closed for the holidays.

Security officers first reported the blaze around 6 a.m., Carelse said, and 35 firefighters were at the scene. Some of them were lifted onto a crane to spray water on the blaze from above.

Flames could be seen rising from the roof of the building in the center of town, while a plume of dark smoke was visible from miles away.

Additional reports by agencies


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