Suspect in fire that gutted South Africa’s Parliament appears in court

South African Parliament arson suspect Zandile Mafe
Zandile Mafe, suspected of setting a devastating fire at South Africa’s Parliament, appears in court in Cape Town on Tuesday.
(Nardus Engelbrecht / Associated Press)

The man suspected of starting the fire that gutted South Africa’s Parliament buildings appeared in court Tuesday and will remain in custody pending a bail hearing.

Zandile Christmas Mafe faces several charges, including arson, theft, housebreaking and violation of the National Key Points Acts, which restricts access to government buildings, according to the local Eye Witness News website.

Mafe’s lawyer said his client denied the charges. Mafe was arrested on the premises of the Parliament complex by police after they noticed the fire Sunday morning. The Parliament complex in the center of Cape Town includes some buildings that are 130 years old.


National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Eric Ntabazalila told journalists outside court that Mafe was also found with an explosive device, but didn’t give further details.

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Police haven’t ruled out the possibility of more arrests, said Nomthandazo Mbambo, spokesman for the Hawks special investigative unit of the police.

“We’re going to be conducting a full investigation, and we think there may be other people involved, but at this stage, the focus is on this one until the investigation can dictate otherwise,” Mbambo told reporters outside the courtroom.

The fire destroyed South Africa’s main Parliament chamber, offices and other nearby buildings Sunday. It flared up again Monday when winds picked up and burned through other offices. Firefighters battled the renewed blaze until midnight, officials said.

Parliament was closed for the holidays, and no injuries have been reported from the fire.