Disasters & Accidents

Suspect in South Africa’s parliament fire charged with terrorism

Johannesburg, Jan 11 (EFE).- The man suspected of starting an inferno that destroyed South Africa’s parliament building was charged with terrorism during his second court appearance on Tuesday.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, who was arrested during the fire in parliament on January 2, is also accused of theft, arson, possession of explosives, and illegally gaining access to the building.

Mafe denies all charges and has threatened to go on a hunger strike, according to his lawyer, Dali Mpofu.

The suspect “did unlawfully and intentionally deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive, or other lethal device in (…) parliament building with the purpose (…) of causing extensive damage,” a court document read.

The South African ministry of public service said Tuesday that the suspect underwent a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Mafe’s mental health now is set to be examined and observed for 30 days, and is due to appear in court again on February 11, said Mpofu, one of South Africa’s well-known lawyers.

Firefighters withdrew from the parliament building last week after battling to put out the flames for three days. More than 300 men and women were deployed, 60 firefighting appliances and two specialized aerial pieces of equipment were used, according to local authorities.

South Africa’s elite police unit the Hawks went into the building to “investigate the circumstances around the unfortunate and devastating fire incident.”

Authorities believe that the fire began in the oldest building in the complex, the Old Assembly, construction of which ended in 1884, later spreading to the newest wing where the National Assembly — the lower house of Parliament — meets and which suffered the most serious damage.

The minister of public works and infrastructure and former Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, revealed that not only were fire sensors delayed in detecting the blaze but inside fire suppression sprinklers did not work because the water valve was closed.

Last April, Cape Town’s Table Mountain, one of the country’s most iconic landmarks, caught fire and the blaze that later spread to the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus and destroyed its historical Jagger Library. Thousands of valuable ancient books and manuscripts about the African continent were incinerated.EFE


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