Firefighters fought a fire in the South African parliament building that sent dark clouds of smoke and flames into the air over the center of Cape Town on Sunday night.
The fire collapsed some of the ceilings of the building that houses the national legislature and is believed to have broken out on the third floor of an old office building. It quickly spread to the National Assembly building that now houses the South African Parliament, said Minister for Public Works and Infrastructure, Patricia de Lille.
“The fire is currently burning in the chambers of the National Assembly,” De Lille told reporters on the spot. “This is a very sad day for democracy because parliament is the home of our democracy.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African President, said during a visit to the scene that a person was being “held and interrogated” by police in connection with the fire.
Cape Town Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Jermaine Carelse said no casualties had been reported. The parliament was closed over the holidays.
According to the Associated Press, security forces first reported the fire around 6 a.m. and 35 firefighters were on site. Some of them were hoisted up into the Cape Town skyline by crane to spray water on the flames from above, Carelse said. More than six hours later, they were still fighting the fire.
The president had been informed of the fire, said Ms. De Lille, but it was too early to speculate on a cause. She said the authorities were checking footage from video cameras.
The Deputy Minister for State Security was also in the parliament complex. Parliament speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula warned against speculation that it was a deliberate attack.
“Until an arson is reported, we have to be careful not to give any evidence of an attack,” she said.
President Ramaphosa and many high-ranking South African politicians were in Cape Town for the memorial service for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who took place in St.
The district consists of three main parts, the original Parliament Building, which was completed in the late 19th century, and two newer parts dating from the 20th century.
The fire initially focused on the old parliament building, which is behind the National Assembly, De Lille told reporters at the gates of the parliamentary complex.
During the briefing, she said the fire department was “in control of the situation” but the fire spread shortly afterwards and ripped through the current parliament building.
Authorities feared other parts of the district’s buildings could collapse from the heat, while historic artifacts inside could be damaged or destroyed. The top of the gleaming white National Assembly building was burned black when smoke rose from the roof.
“The bitumen on the roof is even melting, a sign of the intense heat. There have been reports of some walls with cracks that could indicate a collapse, ”the website News24 quoted Carelse as saying.
The police cordoned off the complex and blocked roads. Some of the restricted areas were near places where people left flowers and other honors for tutu.
A huge wildfire on the slopes of Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain spread to buildings below last year, destroying part of a historic University of Cape Town library.
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