South African Parliament Devastated By Arson Attack

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A Cape Town man has been arrested after South Africa’s parliament was set ablaze on Sunday morning.

According to Reuters, police charged a 49-year-old man with arson and other offenses, including theft. He is expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

The fire was started in an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly. It then spread toward a gym in a building and to rooftops. Images of plumes of smoke rising from the historic buildings flooded the internet.

Cape Town mayoral committee member, JP Smith, told reporters that “the entire parliamentary complex is severely damaged, waterlogged and smoke damaged.”

“The roof above the Old Assembly hall is completely gone and the offices adjacent to it and the gym are destroyed,” Smith continued. “The National Assembly chamber behind me, which you can see, is gutted, the structural ceiling has collapsed and the fire staff had to be momentarily withdrawn.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa praised firefighters for saving a “very important national asset of our government,” adding that parliamentary duties would continue, despite the blaze.

The fire took more than 12 hours later and 70 firefighters to get under control. Smith added that the fire alarm system did not sound until firefighters were already on the scene.

“The electricity at the complex did not trip when the fire started. That created a very dangerous situation and the entire block’s electricity had to be disconnected. The fire detection equipment took quite a while to activate, and so the fire was active for a while,” he said.

Authorities believe the suspect may have tampered with the sprinkler system.

Premier Alan Winde declared, “no stone must be left unturned in determining the cause of the fire, with the findings of a full investigation being made public so that this terrible incident is prevented in the future.”

No injuries or deaths were reported.

Public Works and Infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille called the attack “a very sad day” for democracy.

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