S.Africa parliament fire suspect charged with terrorism

Accused: Zandile Christmas Mafe at the Magistrate Court in Cape Town on Tuesday

A man suspected of starting a fire that gutted South Africa’s parliament made a second court appearance on Tuesday to face a new charge of terrorism, in addition to robbery and arson charges.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested around the parliament complex in Cape Town after the fire broke out on January 2 and appeared in court three days later.

Mafe was initially charged with breaking into parliament, arson and intention to steal property, including laptops, crockery and documents.

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The new charge said the “accused is guilty” of contravening laws on the “protection of constitutional democracy against terrorist and related activities”, according to a court document.

The blaze broke out before dawn on January 2, spreading to the National Assembly, the roof of which collapsed.

Defence lawyer Dali Mpofu said Mafe underwent mental observation on January 3 and was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia.”

He said Mafe was seeking bail.

Mpofu said that Mafe, who has been widely described as homeless in local media, “does not understand why the government, which was not able to feed him when he was poor outside and fending for himself, now is so keen to feed him for a further period of time.”

Another defence lawyer Luvuyo Godla told reporters they are appearing pro-bono for Mafe.

He turned towards photographers when he entered the court, later repeatedly shaking his head from side-to-side and taking off his mask.

Protesters outside the court on Tuesday demanded his release, saying he was a scapegoat.

– Treasures saved –

“However, security only saw him at 6:00 am, when they looked at the screens after being alerted by the smoke,” Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille told AFP last week.

A preliminary report by the city of Cape Town last week said the fire detection system appeared “faulty,” and that “sprinklers did not activate”.

The extensive damage has shaken South Africa and President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the weekend that such incidents undermined the country’s security and stability.

“The museum including artworks and heritage objects” such as “the Keiskama tapestry on the ground floor of the old Assembly building” were saved, it said in a statement.

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