For more than 24 hours, a severe fire ravaged the headquarters of the South African Parliament, in Cape Town, this Sunday, January 02, 2022. No deaths were reported but there was considerable material damage.
Source : Le Monde
Huge flames escaped from the roofs, windows exploded, walls cracked from the heat, entire rooms with their precious wooden walls and rows of leather armchairs went up in smoke. South Africa is currently without a parliament. A major fire broke out this Sunday, January 2 in the parliamentary complex and reduced to ashes the old building housing the National Assembly.
According to the first elements, the fire started in two fires. And a shutdown of the water supply prevented the automatic sprinkler system from working properly. The fire broke out around 5 a.m. Sunday, January 2 (2 a.m. in Paris), in the oldest wing of the imposing Victorian building completed in 1884. For Jean-Pierre Smith, head of the city’s emergency services, who spoke to reporters on Sunday ” The roof of the old building collapsed, there’s nothing left,” he says, before describing the atmosphere in these terms: “the temperature inside is still close to 100°C, which makes it difficult to determine the real extent of the damage.”
Arrest of a suspect
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who came to see the damage himself on Sunday, described the fire as “devastating” and later said that a man had been arrested and was being questioned in connection with the fire. The 49-year-old suspect, who was arrested on Sunday on the grounds of the Parliament, will be brought to justice on Tuesday. He is being prosecuted for “burglary and arson,” said the elite South African police unit, the Hawks. According to the information of our source, the surveillance cameras recorded the presence of the suspect around 2 am. The details of the Minister of Public Works, Patricia de Lille, indicate that “security did not see it until around 6 o’clock, when they looked at the screens, alerted by the smoke” (source Le Monde).
The vast building is in three parts: a recent building that houses the current National Assembly, another that houses the upper house of Parliament called the National Council of Provinces and the oldest part where the parliamentarians used to meet.
The strong mobilization of the firemen did not allow to save the South African parliament. Initially, a team of about thirty firefighters were the first to arrive on the scene. But they had to back off in the face of the intensity of the fire and call for reinforcements after several hours of fighting the flames.
For the time being, it is not possible to say exactly what the material damage of the fire was. However, the 4000 works of art and heritage, valuable objects, some dating back to the 17th century, that the Parliament houses, are under threat. Among these objects, we have the 120-meter long Keiskamma tapestry that traces the history of the peoples of South Africa, from the first indigenous peoples, the San, to the democratic elections of 1994.
Last March, this same parliament was already affected by a fire that was fortunately quickly brought under control. It was also in this same parliament that the speech marking the end of the racist apartheid regime was delivered in 1990 by the last white South African president. The building is located a few hundred meters from St. George’s Cathedral, where the funeral of anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu was held Saturday morning.