South African Parliament Building Burned By Man, Suspect Now Arrested

( On Tuesday, prosecutors in South Africa charged a 49-year-old Cape Town man with arson, theft, housebreaking, and possession of explosives in connection with the massive fire that began Sunday morning in South Africa’s Parliament buildings and burned out of control until Tuesday.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was also charged with violating the National Key Points Act which protects sites of strategic importance like military bases and government buildings.

When he appeared in court for his arraignment Tuesday, Mafe did not enter a plea, though his attorney, Luvuyo Godla said he would be pleading not guilty to the charges. Given the severity of the crimes, prosecutors are requesting he remains in custody without bail.

South African security arrested Mafe at the Parliament complex shortly after the fire was reported. At the time of his arrest, the suspect was in possession of stolen laptops, crockery, and documents.

According to Godla, his client moved to Cape Town six years ago and was unemployed. Godla said Mafe has denied setting the fire or carrying an explosive device. He also accused the government of targeting Mafe because he is poor, claiming prosecutors needed a scapegoat to blame for the government’s failure to protect its own infrastructure.

Prosecutors, however, said that based on the evidence already collected, they are certain they have the right man.

According to a spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, additional charges were likely to be filed in Mafe’s next court appearance on January 11.

Over sixty firefighters, along with a crew from South Africa’s Air Force battled the blaze for two days. Cape Town’s strong winds complicated firefighting efforts. At one point, the winds were so strong, firefighters were unable to use aerial platforms and resorted to scaling the side of the building to prevent the fire from spreading. By Monday afternoon, the fire flared up again when the asphalt roof ignited.

The fire was contained by midnight Monday and teams of firefighters were able to enter the buildings and work their way room by room to locate and extinguish isolated fires.

Even after the fire was finally extinguished Tuesday morning, firefighters remained on-site to monitor the buildings, which remain dangerous.