OUR BURNING ASSEMBLY
CCTV cameras not monitored as alleged arsonist ‘roamed Parliament for hours’
No one was watching CCTV footage as alleged arsonist Zandile Christmas Mafe spent four hours in Parliament on Sunday, according to Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille.
The man accused of causing a fire in Parliament this weekend roamed the corridors undetected for four hours, according to a fire progress report that Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille presented to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Tuesday.
The suspect, Zandile Christmas Mafe, appeared briefly in the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, on five charges, including two counts of arson. His bail application was postponed to 11 January.
During a virtual meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament, De Lille faced a barrage of questions from MPs.
She dismissed speculation that Mafe was homeless, saying that when he appeared in court he had a listed address.
“Concerning the monitoring of the CCTV cameras: yes, there was nobody monitoring the cameras from 2am when this person allegedly entered the building until the police arrived at 6am,” said the minister.
“For this, Parliament and the secretary of Parliament have to answer,” she said.
Ian Schnettler, chief officer of the City of Cape Town Fire Services, has indicated that the National Assembly building was destroyed by the fire. A team of engineers and an architect have been appointed to assess the damage, but have not been able to access the building due to extreme heat.
De Lille said a fire expert had also been appointed and would be working with the SA Police Service and the City of Cape Town to investigate where the fire started and what caused it.
The minister also gave a report on the progress of the restoration project relating to a fire that happened on 16 March 2021 as well as a power failure on 21 December 2021 when Parliament was engulfed in darkness.
She submitted a fire equipment service report outlining her department’s involvement in the precinct’s security system. Public Works, she explained, had procured the CCTV cameras and had a contractor check and maintain the cameras at all times.
Thembeka Kolele, project manager at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, gave a report on previous incidents and areas that are potentially linked to the fire of 2 January.
The first fire was reported in the Old Assembly on 16 March 2021. Fire services responded and the blaze was contained, and according to Kolele, two reports were presented to the joint standing committee. The final report of 17 May 2021, according to Kolele, indicated there was no foul play and the fire had been caused by an electrical fault.
“The fire service equipment report during the March 2021 incident indicated there was an issue with the fire hydrants. When the fire trucks came in they struggled with the hydrants because they must connect to the fire hydrants in order to be able to put out a fire.
“It was discovered there was leakage in one of the pipes. The leaking and corroded pipes were replaced with galvanised pipes on 20 April 2021,” Kolele said.
On 14 August 2021, there were further reports of leaking pipes in the New Assembly. These pipes were replaced on 19 October. Tests showed that the sprinkler system in the precinct and Old Assembly was fully functional, she said.
Kolele said that during the fire of 2 January a service provider was called to remove some gas lines because they could have exacerbated the blaze.
“On 21 December 2021, the fire panels were reset after the power outages and fully functional when the power was restored. The Pre-Sona [State of the Nation Address] report showed no irregularities with any of the equipment,” Kolele told the standing committee.
Kolele said electrical distribution boards at Parliament were serviced annually, as were fire extinguishers, fire detection equipment, fire hoses, fire hydrants and fire sprinklers.
EFF MP Mathapelo Siwisa emphasised that maintenance had been done in December 2021 and a fire was reported less than a month later, on 2 January 2022.
“I asked myself if there was a thorough investigation of all the equipment. We as members are not surprised of what has happened because buildings like hospitals are not maintained. If the fire equipment was working, we wouldn’t have a fire that spread so rapidly if it wasn’t picked up by the sensors,” Siwisa said.
Samantha Graham-Mare, DA MP and a member of the portfolio committee responding to the report submitted by De Lille, questioned whether all safety requirements were addressed in the recent inspection, if it had been signed off by the fire department and if a certificate of compliance had been received.
“The CCTV system was up and running, but the reports we get from this homeless gentleman is that he accessed Parliament around 2am and the call to the fire services was made around 6.15am.
“How is it possible that somebody could spend four hours in Parliament and how was it possible that these functional CCTV cameras didn’t pick him up?” asked Graham-Mare.
De Lille said there was no conclusive evidence of what had caused the fire.
Parliament’s secretary will respond to all the issues raised and put together a report for the standing committee within seven days.
Before the virtual meeting, Dr Corné Mulder, chief whip of the Freedom Front Plus, said Sona and the Budget speech should continue, even if it means holding the sessions on the lawn. DM/MC