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South Africa Parliament arson suspect appears in court

January 4, 2022

The man faces five counts, including two of arson. Meanwhile, firefighters said the blaze was back under control after strong winds had fanned the embers.

A suspect accused of starting the fire at South Africa's Parliament leaves the Cape Town Magistrate Court after short appearance
The man accused of starting the massive fire at South Africa's Parliament denies all chargesImage: Sumaya Hisham/REUTERS

A 49-year-old man charged with arson in connection with the fire in South Africa's Parliament appeared in court on Tuesday.

The man was facing five charges including arson, theft, housebreaking and contravention of the National Key Points Act.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila told reporters outside the court that man was also found with an explosive, but did not provide further details. 

The man's lawyer, advocate Luvuyo Godla, said his client "denies and rejects those charges." 

The court has remanded the case for seven days for prosecutors to collect bail information.

The suspect was arrested over the weekend on the grounds of Parliament.

The Hawks, a specialist unit of the SA Police Service, said he seemed to have gained entry by climbing over a fence and breaking a window.

The case in the Cape Town Magistrates Court was broadcast live on South African news channels. The accused removed his coronavirus mask when he saw photographers in the courtroom, putting it back on after they had taken pictures.

Fire at parliament fire under control

Just a few blocks away from the court, firefighters brought the new blaze at Parliament under control on Tuesday.

Early on Monday, it seemed that the original fire that gutted the historic building in Cape Town was under control, but strong winds caused it to flare up again.

"Further damages caused at several floors of the building," Parliament spokesman Moloto Motapo wrote on Twitter.

Cape Town's chief fire officer, Ian Schnetler, said structural engineers and forensic investigators would be able to get into the building late on Tuesday.

Schnetler said firefighters were still looking for hot spots and they would stay on scene until "the last spark or ember is out in this building."

"By the end of the day we should have this thing sorted out,"  Schnetler said.

Alternative venues considered

The fire first broke out on Sunday, and completely destroyed the National Assembly.

Firefighter on a hoisted platform above South Africa's Parliament spraying water on a new fire at the building
Firefighters brought a new blaze at South Africa's parliament under controlImage: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP/picture alliance

It was scheduled to host President Cyril Ramaphosa's annual State of the Nation Address and the budget speech in February.

"We wish to assure you that the State of the Nation Address and the budget speech and other activities will proceed as planned," the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Amos Masondo, said on Monday night.

National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the Cape Town International Convention Centre and Cape Town's city hall and municipal council chambers were being considered as alternative venues.

lo/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)