Home LATEST NEWS Suspected arsonist of South African parliament accused of “terrorism”

Suspected arsonist of South African parliament accused of “terrorism”

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Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, shaved head and sober black jacket, stared at the cameras at the Cape Town Criminal Court for a long time. Eyebrow raised, face closed, he slowly turned around to show himself from all angles.

Presented as homeless, Mr. Mafe was arrested on the morning of January 2, a few hours after the start of the fire, inside the parliament. He was charged three days later during a brief appearance.

The suspect was already accused of having entered by breaking in in the huge building in the center of the port city, to have set fire to parliament buildings and to have stolen laptops, dishes and documents.

He is now also being prosecuted for terrorism, the prosecution said on Tuesday, because he detonated a device in the parliament, according to the spokesperson of the public prosecutor’s office Eric Ntabazalila, who did not specify of what nature.

This charge was added the day before the hearing, after investigators viewed videos shot by surveillance cameras, the prosecution said, without detailing what they saw there either.

Since his arrest, many voices have been raised to present the suspect as a scapegoat, emphasizing security breaches and failures of fire systems.

Free Mafe!, He is innocent! displayed a few dozen demonstrators, including several homeless, in front of the court.

Several people carry signs in front of a building.  A woman is seated on the ground.

A few people showed their support for Zandile Christmas Mafe in the Cape Town court where he was appearing.

Photo: Getty Images / AFP / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

A shaggy, toothless man recounted howling his memories of the night before the fire. He was sleeping in a street alongside the parliament and heard a popping noise. He imagined a collision between cars and fell asleep again, before seeing the smoke and realizing that the parliament was on fire.

Suspect is paranoid schizophrenic, lawyer says

Defense lawyer Dali Mpofu, a tenor of the bar who represents the accused free of charge, told the hearing that Mafe was examined on January 3 and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenic. And that his client was planning to go on a hunger strike if he remained in prison.

He does not understand why the government, which gave him nothing to eat when he was poor, outside, now wants to feed him in prison, he told the court.

Mr. Mpofu, well known in South Africa, in particular for having defended the ex-president Jacob Zuma, insisted that the parole of his client be examined.

The prosecution retorted that this would be a waste of time, claiming 30 days of observation to assess the psychological state of the accused. The judge ruled in this direction, claiming to have the tied hands : how to examine your fate without even knowing if it will be fit to be judged.

Mr Mafe shook his head at length in disapproval, removing his mask to insist in front of the cameras.

A building on fire.

The fire claimed no casualties, but devastated one of the country’s most iconic buildings.

Photo: Getty Images / RODGER BOSCH

Faulty systems in parliament

According to the first elements of the investigation communicated by the authorities, the fire detection system was defective. The sprinkler system has not worked, it was last revised in 2017 and an inspection scheduled for February 2020 was not carried out, according to these reports.

Surveillance cameras place Zandile Mafe in the building at around 2 a.m.h, when they looked at the screens, alerted by the smoke “,” text “:” But the security only saw it around 6h, when they looked at the screens, alerted by the smoke “} }”>But security didn’t see him until around 6 a.m., when they looked at the screens, alerted by the smoke., had specified to AFP the Minister of Public Works, Patricia De Lille.

The cameras worked, but no one checked them on that fateful night, she explained, evoking a security breach.

The firefighters had fought for more than 48 hours before fully controlling the fire, which caused no casualties, but which devastated one of the most emblematic buildings of South African democracy.

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