Fire ravages South Africa Parliament

A fire broke out at the South African Parliament building in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday morning, and spread to the wing housing the current National Assembly, where parliament sits.

As the blaze continued to spread, it caused the roof of the old National Assembly building to collapse later on Sunday, though the parliament sits in the newer version.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters at the scene an arrest had been made. “Someone has been held right now and is being questioned,” he said.

What we know so far

An investigation has been launched into the fire, and one person has been detained for questioning over the fire, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

“Someone has been held right now and is being questioned,” Ramaphosa told reporters during a visit to the scene later on Sunday.

Jean-Pierre Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, said 36 firefighters were at the scene.

“The roof of the Old Assembly building has collapsed and is gone,” Smith told reporters.

They were still fighting the fire more than eight hours later.

The fire broke out around 3:00 a.m. UTC (0400 CET) and was on the third story of the Parliament building. Reports indicated that it started in the office space and spread towards a gym.

The nearby area, including the cathedral where Archbishop Desmond Tutu was buried on Saturday, was cordoned off. 

No casualties have been reported, and it was not immediately clear if anyone was in the building when the fire started.

What caused the blaze?

Minister of Public Works Patricia de Lille told reporters that the fire started on the third floor of an old building that houses offices. It then spread to the old Parliament building, which is located behind the National Assembly building.

She said firefighters “have the situation under control,” but the fire spread soon after and tore through the current Parliament building.

The cause of the blaze is still unknown. De Lille said officials were reviewing CCTV footage to determine the cause of the fire.

Parliament speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula cautioned against speculation that the fire 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.

Cape Town battered by fires

The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town consist of three main sections. The oldest was constructed in 1884, and the newer sections were added in the 1920s and 1980s.

While South Africa’s National Assembly and upper House National Council of Provinces are located in Cape Town, the government is based in Pretoria.

It is the second massive fire Cape Town has endured in recent times. In April of 2020, a wildfire that started on the slopes of Table Mountain, destroyed the University of Cape Town campus, and ravaged its historic library that housed a priceless African Studies collection described as “unique in the world.”