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Firefighters struggling to contain the huge fire, which destroyed South Africa's national assembly building
South Africa

South Africa parliament fire restarts after initially being brought under control

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters yesterday that a man had been held and that the building’s sprinkler systems had apparently failed.

LAST UPDATE | 3 Jan 2022

A HUGE FIRE that destroyed a large part of South Africa’s parliament has restarted in the roof space, fire fighters have said. 

The blaze was declared under control earlier today but that comment has been withdrawn.

A suspect was due to appear in court over the blaze later today.

The fire broke out early yesterday in the oldest wing of the parliament complex and dozens of crews battled throughout the day to extinguish the flames.

“The fire was brought under control during the night,” spokesman Jermaine Carelse said, adding that the blaze was still burning in the part of the building where it began, which was completed in 1884 and has wood-panelled rooms.

Officials said the entire part housing the National Assembly had been destroyed.

“The most damage is in the National Assembly building,” Carelse said. “That won’t be used for months.”

Earlier, parliament spokesman Moloto Mothapo said the roof of the National Assembly had collapsed and that the fire was “so intense” in that part of the building that firefighters had been forced to withdraw.

“The entire chamber where the members sit… has burned down,” he said.

No casualties were reported.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters at the scene yesterday that a man had been held and that the building’s sprinkler systems had apparently failed.

‘Criminal case’ 

“A man has been arrested inside the parliament, he’s still being interrogated. We have opened a criminal case,” police spokeswoman Thandi Mbambo said, adding that the suspect will appear in court tomorrow.

The parliament building houses a collection of rare books and the original copy of the former Afrikaans national anthem “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (“The Voice of South Africa”), which was already damaged.

The full extent of the fire’s damage was still being assessed.

The parliament’s presiding officers were to meet today with Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille to take stock of the devastation.

Jean-Pierre Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, told reporters the entire complex had suffered extensive water and fire damage and “nothing” was left of the part of the historic part.

This is where Parliament kept treasures including around 4,000 heritage and art works, some dating back to the 17th century.

These include the 120-metre-long (390-foot) Keiskamma tapestry, named after a river in the southeast of the country, tracing the history of South Africa from the first Indigenous peoples, the San, to the historic democratic elections of 1994.

After ravaging the older wing of the building, the flames spread to newer parts of the complex which are currently in use.

 © AFP 2022.

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