Firefighters battle blaze at South African parliament building in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 18: Student accommodation at University of Cape Town (UCT) burns on April 18, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. It is reported that a wildfire spread from the slopes of Table Mountain to University of Cape Town and burned the historic campus library and students from UCT were evacuated from residences and taken to pre-determined locations. The historic Mostertís Mill and Rhodes Memorial Restaurant were also destroyed. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)

Fire in National Assembly building not contained
Cause of blaze unknown
Roof of the Old Assembly building has collapsed
No injuries reported
CAPE TOWN, Jan 2 (Reuters) – A fire at the South African parliament caused extensive damage on Sunday, collapsing the roof and gutting an entire floor in one building, with firefighters partially containing the blaze after several hours.

By mid-morning, smoke had started to subside after billowing from one of the several buildings that make up the parliament complex in the legislative capital, Cape Town.

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Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia De Lille told reporters there were no reports of any injuries. The cause of the blaze was not yet known.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters after assessing some of the damage that the work of parliament will continue.

He added that “I believe somebody is being held right now and they’re being questioned”, but did not give details.

“It does seem like the sprinkler system did not work as it was supposed to, but their (firefighters’) appearance and their coming here has saved a very important national asset of our government,” Ramaphosa said.

The parliamentary complex, some of which dates back to 1884, consists of a cluster of buildings. The National Assembly, or lower House of Parliament, is situated in what is known as the New Wing.

The upper house, or National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is located in what is called the Old Wing or Old Assembly, which is also used for committee meetings.

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“The fire has been contained in the Old Wing. Firefighters are currently trying to control the fire in the New Wing, where the fire has affected the National Assembly Chamber,” parliament said in a statement.

Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security, said the roof of the old building had collapsed, and added the fire had gutted the third floor of the building, including office space and the gymnasium.

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He also told reporters that the parliament’s fire alarm only rang when firefighters were already on site.

The fire, which started just before 6 a.m., was the second fire at the parliament in less than a year. In March there was a blaze caused by an electrical fault.

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National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters that Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address to a joint session of parliament would go ahead as planned on Feb.10 but an alternative venue would have to be used.

“It is sad that this has happened because indeed the parliament is a national key point and this is an appropriate place where the president should address the nation from,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Reporting by Shafiek Tassiem and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg Additional reporting by Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru Writing by Neil Fullick and Nqobile Dludla Editing by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry