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Parliament will be rebuilt by November 2025 despite a ‘minor delay’, says Xolile George

Parliament will be rebuilt by November 2025 despite a ‘minor delay’, says Xolile George
Nelson Mandela’s bust in front of the National Assembly at Parliament which remains closed after being damaged in a fire that began on 2 January 2022. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The Old Assembly and New Assembly buildings, which were gutted by a fire on 2 January 2022, will be rebuilt by November 2025, according to Secretary to Parliament Xolile George.

Secretary to Parliament Xolile George gave an update on Monday on progress after a City Press report said the legislature was still in ruins 18 months after being seriously damaged in an arson attack.

Speaking to the Press Gallery Association, George also gave an overview of his work since assuming the role of Secretary to Parliament just over a year ago. The most pressing issue was the 2 January 2022 fire.

City Press noted that although the site had in March this year been handed over to the Development Bank of Southern Africa to lead the reconstruction, debris had still not been removed. This raised fears that it would not meet its September 2025 deadline to restore Parliament to its former state.

George said: “In the area of restoration, we woke up to chilling headlines in City Press that Parliament remains in ruins 18 months after the devastating fire, essentially communicating a message that all is doom.”

Explaining the delays, George said parliamentary staff had been prevented from accessing the site until earlier this year as conditions were continually changing due to low oxygen levels.

Defending Parliament’s position, he said the criticism was without merit and that, due to safety concerns, Parliament had access to the site only in March 2023 to remove rubble and start preparatory work.

“Yes, from where we stand, we think the criticism will be unfounded because the only time we got in charge of the site was when we handed over the site [to the DBSA] on 6 March. So essentially we are less than four months being on that site. So the 18 months is irreconcilable with the time it took to address the problem.

“A minor delay of a month to remove rubble gets elevated to a stage where it attracts national headlines,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rising from the ashes — building blocks for National Assembly’s restoration are being slowly assembled

George said he expected a detailed design for the rebuild would be completed by September 2023 and that a contractor would be on site by January 2024.

According to George, the Department of Public Works and Coega Development Corporation had conducted detailed assessments of the damage and completed their work around May 2022.

The reports were submitted to parliamentary subcommittees and Parliament then met with the minister of finance. In October 2022, R2-billion was allocated for the repair and refurbishment of the building. The DBSA was then appointed to take charge of the restoration work.

Despite the hurdles, George emphasised that Parliament remained committed to completing restoration work by the end of November 2025.

In March this year, DBSA senior programme manager Niraj Naamdhew told the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management of Parliament that debris removal would start on 29 May and should be completed by 11 July. He said the restoration of the Old Assembly and New Assembly should be completed by 10 September 2025.

On Monday, George said, “To further mitigate any potential risks, we have implemented stringent monitoring and accountability measures. Transparency and open communication are at the forefront of our approach, and we continuously update all stakeholders, including political parties in parliament, regarding the progress of these projects. This ensures that everyone involved remains well informed and engaged in the process.”

George said the redesign of Parliament should pose a fundamental question to South Africans: How should a democratic Parliament look?

“How do we galvanise across sections of society to buy into that work in such a way that we could imbue our country’s rich cultural tapestry to influence how a post-democratic Parliament should look like and what values it should communicate?” he asked.

Ongoing criminal case

Meanwhile, alleged arsonist Zandile Mafe has remained imprisoned since his arrest on the day of the fire. In a rant in the Western Cape High Court on 12 July, Mafe admitted to torching Parliament.

During the proceedings, Judge Nathan Erasmus lifted a ban preventing the media from reporting on the findings of a psychiatric assessment, which concluded:

  • The accused is unable to follow the court proceedings so as to make a proper defence, and/or;
  • At the time of the commission of the offence, the accused was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act in question and to act in accordance with an appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act.

The case has been repeatedly postponed. DM

Gallery

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