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Parliament arson accused Zandile Mafe declared unfit to stand trial

Parliament arson accused Zandile Mafe declared unfit to stand trial
Zandile Mafe appears at Cape Town high court for his preliminary hearing on March 28, 2023 in Cape Town. (Photo by Gallo Images/Die Burger/Jaco Marais)

Mafe, who was alleged to have set fire to the National Assembly building in the early hours of 2 January 2022, will not face trial based on the findings of a psychiatric assessment. This means he will be declared a state patient and referred to a psychiatric institution.

During a hybrid hearing in the Western Cape high court on Thursday, Zandile Mafe’s senior counsel Dali Mpofu informed the court that they had accepted the findings of an independent psychiatric assessment undertaken by three State-appointed specialists.

This comes after Judge Nathan Erasmus disclosed the psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ findings and asked the defence and state to submit comments on how to proceed in the arson case.

This development comes after more than a year of heated arguments about the mental state of the accused in both the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court and the Western Cape high court.

Mafe’s case will now be handled under section 77 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which refers to an accused who suffers from mental illness and may not be fit to stand trial as a result.

This means that no one will be held liable. 

In October 2022, R2-billion was allocated for the repair and refurbishment of the Parliament buildings.

National Assembly fire

Firefighters battle the blaze that engulfed the National Assembly in Parliament on 3 January 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parliament will be rebuilt by November 2025 despite a ‘minor delay’, says Xolile George

Mafe’s mental state became a focus on 3 January 2022, a day after his arrest, when district surgeon Dr Zelda van Tonder declared that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. During court proceedings in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court, it was also revealed that Mafe allegedly confessed hours after this mental report was filed.

Mpofu challenged both the assessment report and confession, contending that Van Tonder failed to tell the court why she had diagnosed Mafe as destructive and a paranoid schizophrenic.

Furthermore, on Thursday 13 July, the Western Cape high court had a glimpse of the mental state of Mafe when he went on a rant during proceedings.

In this case, the next stage is for both the defence and the state to offer a submission to the Western Cape high court, on the way forward.

Legal experts told Daily Maverick on Thursday that declaring Mafe a State patient is not a simple process. The court is likely to hear arguments from both the defence and the state during Mafe’s next appearance.

According to legal experts, after hearing arguments from both the state and the defence, and taking into account the psychiatric results, the court will declare Mafe a state patient.

Zandile Mafe

Zandile Mafe in the Western Cape high court on 13 July, 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images. /Brenton Geach)

Timeline of events:

  1. Zandile Mafe has been in jail since his arrest in January 2022 after a fire gutted parts of Parliament. He is accused of setting fire to the National Assembly building in the early hours of 2 January 2022
  2. District surgeon Dr Zelda van Tonder declared that Mafe was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
  3. On 19 January 2022, the Western Cape high court Judge President John Hlophe set aside the referral of Mafe for mental observation and granted an order that he be immediately released to a correctional facility.
  4. Cape Town Regional Court Magistrate Michelle Adams on 4 February denied bail to Mafe.
  5. Mafe was dealt another blow in his bid to be released when the Western Cape high court dismissed an appeal to overturn a ruling denying him bail.
  6. Mafe said he was ready to be transferred to another facility for mental evaluation, provided it is anywhere but Valkenberg Hospital.
  7. Mafe underwent a mental evaluation at Fort England Psychiatric Hospital to determine whether he is mentally capable of comprehending the gravity of the charges against him, the crime he allegedly committed, and defending himself in court
  8. Judge Nathan Erasmus barred reporting on Mafe’s psychiatric assessment.
  9. Judge Nathan Erasmus release the findings by the psychiatrists and psychologist, which include:
  • Zandile Mafe is unable to follow the court proceedings 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 matter is due back in court on 1 September, 2023. DM

Parliament fire

Firefighters attempt to extinguish the blaze at Parliament in Cape Town on 3 January, 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mari Bekker says:

    We could have reached this point a lot sooner, had Mr Mafe’s counsel not delayed the process last year.

    One cannot help but wonder if his counsel misjudged his mental state or dragged it out for ulterior motives?

    Surely it is in a client’s best interest to have a question of their mental health answered as soon as possible?

  • Rod Gush says:

    Mr. Mpofu does not come cheap as the Public Protector and others will testify. One wonders who paid his fees in this case? Pro-Bono/ I doubt it. Follow the money.

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    The court should declare Government unfit to fix Parliament or Govern SA.

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


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