CAPE TOWN (Worthy News) – South Africa’s Parliament complex in Cape Town was on fire Sunday shortly after the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was the nation’s spiritual voice against apartheid.
South African police said a 49-year-old suspect was due in court for alleged involvement in
the blaze. “A man has been arrested inside the parliament [and] he’s still being interrogated. We have opened a criminal case. He has been arrested and will appear in court on Tuesday,” a police spokesperson said.
As firefighters struggled to contain the blaze, there was concern the fire was caused by those trying to destroy evidence of massive corruption under the previous administration.
“Archbishop Tutu was an influential voice for human rights,” recalled South African-born journalist Tom Kiss an expert on South African politics.
He said that both Tutu and late President Nelson Mandela would be “rolling over in their graves” when they could hear about the fire.
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille called the blaze “a very sad day for democracy for Parliament is the home of our democracy.” De Lille added that “The fire is currently in the National Assembly chambers.”
Parliament speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula cautioned against speculation that it was a deliberate attack. “Until such a time that a report has been furnished that there was arson, we have to be careful not to make suggestions that there was an attack,” she said.
The fire started on the third floor of an old building that houses offices and spread to the National Assembly building, where South Africa’s Parliament now sits, authorities said.
City of Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said no injuries were reported as Parliament was closed for the holidays.
Security guards first reported the fire at around 6 a.m., and 35 firefighters were on the scene, officials said.
Some of them were lifted into the Cape Town skyline on a crane to spray water on the blaze from above, witnesses said. They were still fighting the fire more than six hours later.
The deputy minister of state security was also at the Parliament complex.
The fire happened while President Ramaphosa and many of South Africa’s high-ranking politicians were in Cape Town for the funeral service of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The funeral took place Saturday at the city’s St. George’s Cathedral, about a block away from the burning Parliament precinct, following a week of mourning.
Police cordoned off the complex and closed roads. Some of the blocked-off areas were near where people had left flowers and other tributes to Tutu.
The Parliament precinct has three main sections, the original Parliament building completed in the late 1800s and two newer parts built in the 20th century.
The fire initially was concentrated at the old Parliament building, which is located behind the National Assembly, De Lille told reporters in front of the Parliament complex gates.
During that briefing, she said firefighters “have the situation under control,” but the fire spread soon after and tore through the current Parliament building.
It reminded residents of the enormous wildfire on the slopes of Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain last year. That blaze spread to buildings below and destroyed part of a historic library at the University of Cape Town.
On Sunday, authorities feared that others parts of the buildings in the precinct might collapse because of the heat, while historical artifacts inside were likely to be damaged or destroyed.
The top part of the bright white National Assembly building had been burned black as smoke billowed out its roof, reporters said.
There were mounting fears among authorities that much of the complex could collapse. Journalist Kiss said it was another sad and tragic day for South Africa that already experienced a troubled history.
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