Images of the scene showed flames emanating from the top of a building, sending dense black smoke into the sky above Parliament and into neighboring streets.
Dozens of firefighters were on duty to put out the blaze Sunday morning and it is still not under control by the afternoon. No injuries or damage were reported.
“The entire parliament complex is badly damaged, the water is stagnant and the smoke is damaging,” said J.P. Smith told a news conference before parliament.
“The roof of the old assembly hall is completely gone and the adjoining offices and gymnasium have been demolished,” Smith said. “The National Assembly room behind me was burned down, the structural ceiling collapsed and firefighters were called back shortly after.”
The Parliament complex, some of which date back to 1884, contains a collection of buildings. The National Assembly, or Lower House of Parliament, is located in what is now known as the New Wing. The Upper House, or National Council of Provinces, is located in the area known as the Old Division or the Old Legislature, which is also used for committee meetings.
South Africa’s parliament has said the fire was contained in an old section of the campus, but it is still burning in the new section.
The fire started in the office area of the premises and spread to the National Assembly Room. Firefighters arrived at the scene after 6 a.m. There were some difficulties in gaining access due to security features in the building, Smith said.
Smith said the fire alarm system was not working properly because firefighters were at the scene before the system alarm went off.
“The power supply to the premises was not cut off when the fire broke out. This created a very dangerous situation and the power supply to the entire block was cut off. The fire detection equipment took some time to operate so the fire was active for some time,” he added.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the sprinkler system was not working as expected and that authorities were investigating the fire.
The fire broke out just hours after the funeral of anti-racism hero Desmond Tutu took place in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, not far from Parliament.
Tutu was also “extinct,” Ramaphosa said [parliament] The repository of democracy where he worked so hard was the place he supported, prayed for and wanted to see.
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille had earlier told a news conference outside parliament that there were no injuries.
“This is a very sad day for our democracy because parliament is the home of our democracy and parliament is a strategic key point,” De Lill said.
Smith said Sunday’s fire was more serious than any other fire in parliament in March 2021. In the March incident, a fire broke out in the old assembly and no one was injured.
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