First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

We need so many more of our readers to join them. The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country. We are inundated with tip-offs; we know where to look and what to do with the information when we have it – we just need the means to help us keep doing this work.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

‘Arson’ attempt at St George’s Cathedral triggers...

South Africa

MORNING BLAZE

‘Arson’ attempt at St George’s Cathedral triggers fears over ‘political instability’

A fire broke out in the basement of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday. (Photos: Supplied)

A fire that started in the early hours of Sunday morning at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town has done little damage, but has left cathedral officials concerned about the state of South Africa’s politics.

A fire in the basement of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday caused minimal damage to the historic building and no one was hurt.

The fire, which left traces of dense smoke in the basement and in the former jazz club, the Crypt, was an act of arson, according to cathedral dean, Father Michael Weeder.

Weeder told Daily Maverick that someone was seen running away from the cathedral at about 1am on Sunday, by City security officers. Cathedral security guards then spotted smoke coming from the basement.

St George’s Cathedral in central Cape Town, where a fire in the early hours of Sunday caused minimal damage. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“It appears that a lit piece of cotton or gauze was thrown through the small, barred window near the steps leading up to the cathedral’s Wale Street entrance,” he said in a statement.

Weeder said the fire was towards the government precinct end of the cathedral and was spreading towards the rest of the building before the City of Cape Town fire department extinguished it.

The small barred window through which a lit piece of cotton or gauze appeared to have been thrown. (Photo: Brenton Geach)
The small barred window near the steps up to St George’s Cathedral. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“The damage was controlled and the fire put out. But, beyond that, the damage physically is minimal. But what it has done in terms of anxiety and stress, just overall concern about the political instability of our country and our city,” said Weeder. “Obviously it leads to very rife speculation with the State of the Nation Address coming up soon; our proximity to Parliament and what happened there on Boxing Day.”

Almost two months ago, a section of Parliament was gutted in an arson attack that was widely deemed to be an attack on South Africa’s democracy. The alleged perpetrator, Zandile Mafe, has recently been denied bail

Weeder said that on the day of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s funeral he and other guests had smelled smoke coming from Parliament. Tutu ashes were interred at the cathedral.

“It is a trauma that has been woken again because of what happened just a few months ago,” he said.

The cordoned-off area where the fire was started at St George’s Cathedral on Sunday. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

“We can only speculate on it. We don’t want to attribute too much to it; it could just be a random act of violence, though it wouldn’t make sense considering where we are located; the timeliness nature of it.”

He explained that the way the window had been broken did not point to a homeless person breaking in to look for food, or a similar scenario. And the fact that the cotton was thrown in suggests the intention was to cause damage. 

Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson Jermaine Carelse told Daily Maverick it was suspected that a vagrant living in the area had been burning rubbish through a vent hole to the cathedral basement. However, this was not linked to the deliberate arson attempt.

The matter was referred to the police and Sergeant Wesley Twigg of the SAPS Western Cape media centre told Daily Maverick a case of arson had been opened for investigation but no arrests had been made. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 2

    • He was probably too busy celebrating with his pal Dali … in their recommendation of the appointment of the first female CJ … in believe it or not … their notion of ‘transformation’ and then move to ‘burning down’ the judiciary also. The two of them, with the complicity of a few other scoundrels have done so with the JSC already !

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted