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‘My job was to burn down Parliament,’ Mafe testifies, claiming he’s fit to stand trial

‘My job was to burn down Parliament,’ Mafe testifies, claiming he’s fit to stand trial
Zandile Mafe testifes in Western Cape High Court on 3 November 2023. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Alleged Parliament arsonist Zandile Mafe maintains he is fit to stand trial. His own testimony, however, raised several questions, in addition to those presented by the psychiatrists who said he should receive treatment.

‘My job as a terrorist, Zandile Mafe, was to burn down Parliament. We had planned it for a year and I was compensated for completing my mission. [My accomplices] are public and government officials and I was told what would be the consequence if I mentioned their names,” arson accused Zandile Mafe told the Western Cape High Court on Friday, 3 November. 

Mafe took the stand to demonstrate that he is fit to understand and follow court proceedings, and to explain why he is opposing a panel report that determined he has schizophrenia and suggested he be admitted to Valkenberg Hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.

Dr Thupana Seshoka, who led an expert panel at Fort England Psychiatric Hospital in Eastern Cape, wrote the report and testified on a virtual platform on Thursday, 2 November.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Alleged Parliament arsonist Mafe ‘unable to follow court proceedings’ or conduct ‘proper defence

A separate report by the defence-appointed private psychiatrist Dr Naseema Cassimjee found that Mafe had his first violent psychiatric incident when he was 15. Cassimjee also diagnosed him with schizophrenia and said Mafe was unfit to stand trial and was unable to recognise the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the alleged offence.

When asked by his senior counsel, advocate Dali Mpofu, whether he still regarded himself as not guilty, Mafe replied: “I see myself not guilty still.”

Mafe is accused of setting fire to the National Assembly building in the early hours of 2 January 2022. He faces charges of terrorism, arson, housebreaking, theft and possession of explosives.

Friday’s testimony by Mafe, as well as closing arguments by Mpofu and State prosecutor Mervyn Menigo, marked the end of the inquiry into Mafe’s mental state before Judge Nathan Erasmus decides on the findings of Seshoka and Cassimjee’s reports.

What Mafe told the court

Mafe gave a detailed account of buying petrol on New Year’s Eve, entering Parliament through an open door, spending three days inside Parliament, sprinkling petrol on items at the doors of the Old Assembly, and lighting pieces of paper and dropping them on the floor in the National Assembly. He said that once he set fire to the New Assembly, he made his way to a window at the Old Assembly.

Mafe said that when he was leaving Parliament, a private security guard pointed a handgun at him and said “Come out” and he was later arrested by the police.

Mafe told the court that prosecutor Menigo was correct when he described him as very wise and clever.

However, Mafe testified, Judge Erasmus and the prosecutor sent him to Fort England for observation. “When I arrived there I found out that place was for the mad people. I was shocked. Even people there were shocked and asked what I’m doing here and what is wrong with me.

“Valkenberg and those mad people institutions is a place for people that smoke cocaine, heroin, Mandrax and dagga. The doctors of Fort England used the term ‘mental illness’ as they said I’m mad. They say I’m like a scrap supposed to be taken like this and to be thrown to the scrapyard of Valkenberg hospital.”

Mafe’s secret diary

The State presented Mafe’s diary as evidence. The diary was confiscated by police from his shack in Site B in Khayelitsha after the fire and was also delivered to Ford England hospital.

Mafe opposed the State using his diary as evidence against him. “I don’t appreciate it being utilised here since it is a confidential document that arrived to the court illegally. The use of the dairy surprised me and angered me too much. I’m in court for setting Parliament alight.

“I understand now that Dr Seshoka used my diary to assess me and to comment on those writings. From his belief, all that I wrote there was madness, it was all for not reality and it was false. If it was all madness, why is the dairy here in the court?”

Mafe was reminded about a diary entry about some homes belonging to “pres ram” that had the body parts of albino people inside them. Before the defence could finish its question, Mafe interrupted, stating this was very dangerous and he refused to speak on the subject.

Menigo asked Mafe about Cassimjee’s report, which found that he had a formal thought disorder and suffered from paranoid and grandiose delusions.

Mafe said he disagreed with Cassimjee’s assessment that he was mentally ill and unfit to stand trial. 

Final arguments

Mpofu challenged the Ford England panel’s report on Mafe’s mental state, claiming it was “disordered”.

Menigo said, “On three occasions, I approached the defence with an unanswered request for a virtual meeting with Dr Seshoka simply to ventilate the information they require. If that meeting had taken place, the scenario could have progressed further if there had been a problem with access to social workers or nursing reports.

“The only time we heard from the defence was when they wanted to employ their own psychiatrist. Even at that stage, I suggested that the psychiatrist of the accused consult with the panel in Ford England and obtain any information they needed. This opportunity was not raised.

“To come to a hearing of this nature and cry foul that they are hearing information for the first time which could have been accessed over a period of many months before this hearing … I don’t think that was fair on Seshoka or on the process because there was an opportunity created by this court, an opportunity to deal fairly with this matter.”

Menigo reiterated it was the State’s submission that the court should make a finding that Mafe was not fit to stand trial in terms of section 77 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

Mpofu said the judge was not bound by the recommendations of the psychiatrists.

“Our preferred outcome would be if the court … would take the bull by the horns and find that in our favour that Mafe is capable of understanding the legal proceedings as he proved on Friday and during his bail application.”

Judge Erasmus will deliver his finding on 11 December. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    So, who’s paying for Mpoohfoo – the “public and government officials” who financed this nutter?

  • Quentin du Plooy says:

    My suggestion to the defendant would be to find another advocate.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Is Mpofu desperately grubbing to be in the news and operating pro bono?

    ….or is there truth to Mafe’s story, and Mpofu is being paid his usual peanuts by the real organizers.

    The only certainty is that he will lose as usual 😀

  • Samuel Ginsberg says:

    What does Mpofu hope to accomplish by making his client stand trial?

  • Samuel Ginsberg says:

    The trial of the century would be Mafe represented by Teffo.

  • Michael Whitaker says:

    This guy is a nutter. He needs to be institutionalised for life.

  • Mano Murugan says:

    The parliamentary guys have some questions to answer here. They are blocking off the truth by appointing psychiatrics of their own choices

  • District Six says:

    Mr Mafe is charged, inter alia, with possession of explosives.
    That needs some explanation and answers.
    Also, some edits are needed here: “Fort England” vs “Ford”.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Self confessed terrorist. Put him in jail for life. What’s the hold up?

  • Garth Gething says:

    When was the last time Dali won a case. Gareth Cliff vs Idols?
    He loses everytime, with cost orders.
    Just ask tata Zuma and Mkwebani.

  • This article is full or typos and wrong spellings, it was such a pain to read. I’m a copy editor. Kindly get in touch with me for assistance.

    • T'Plana Hath says:

      * Misspellings
      (Just kidding, we’re in the same boat. I also get the zarking fardwarks whenever I see bad grammar and spelling in a DM article – Did you know that if you point it out often enough, you even get a personalised retaliatory article ‘just for you’, calling you a pedant! All in good fun, of course.
      I get that there is often time pressure involved and that some people just have a singular style, also autocorrect and fat fingers – so these days I laugh it off. Unless it’s something really egregious, then I feel compelled to point it out – but not in the comments. That’s like correcting the teacher in front of the class and nobody likes that.
      I feel your pain, Peshie, if we do not abide by the rules of spelling and grammar then the errorists win! Let’s just be kind about it.)

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    The Albino body parts diary entry is particularly concerning

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    ….particularly as it states that the house where the body parts are kept belongs to a pres ram.

  • Gretha Erasmus says:

    What has always been quite clear is that Mafe is mentally ill. However, someone who is mentally ill can know if their actions are wrong and take responsibility for that, so that would be the difficult part to decide, if he was aware enough of right and wrong to be held accountable. But I think he is probably too mentally ill to understand right and wrong.
    The curious question is if there is truth to his story that people paid him, and who is paying Dali Mpofu. Just because Mafe is clearly schizophrenic does not mean that someone did not abuse that mental illness for their own purpose of burning down parliament.

  • Jay Vyas says:

    Pres Ram ……. ?
    I presume that is short for President Serial Rama Phala Phala Sofa !
    I rest my case!

  • Jan Lemmer says:


  • Andre Swart says:

    ….’he had a formal thought disorder and suffered from paranoid and grandiose delusions’…

    Typical of the default condition of his ‘handlers’!

    They are all the same!

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