A short while ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed members of the media outside Parliament while a fire that broke out early on Sunday morning continues to rage.
In his address, he thanked firefighters, minister of public works Patricia de Lille, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and others who had been at the scene since Sunday morning.
“Had [the firefighters] not responded in the six minutes, I think we would be talking about the National Assembly and the [National} Council of Provinces being in complete ashes.”
The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said emergency services were notified of the fire shortly after 6am.
Ramaphosa said the dedication of emergency services showed that “we do have one city that works, a province that works, and we do have a government that works when the chips are down. And this is a demonstration of precisely that.”
Ramaphosa said it appeared as though Parliamentary Precinct’s sprinkler system “did not work as it was supposed to”, adding to his praise of the firefighters, who he said “saved a very important asset of our government.”
He said investigating what started the fire was paramount, as well as how the fire started in the Old Assembly and moved to the National Assembly.
Ramaphosa added that someone was “being held right now and questioned” in relation to the fire, but that probes needed to “go a lot deeper into how this type of event can take place”, as well as mitigating measures going forward.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo has since confirmed to News24 that a man was being questioned by police regarding the fire.
Smith explained the fire appears to have started at the office complex, and gradually spread to the gymnasium.
The assembly chambers have now been affected, with significant damage to the roof, which has since collapsed.
A report on the cause of the fire is expected within the next 48 hours. No injuries have been reported.
A national asset saved
Ramaphosa said without the dedicated work of firefighters, Parliament could well have been reduced to ashes.
“Our key officials have really acted with great capability and speed and we thank them. We also thank them for having mobilised the number of units and vehicles laid out here.
“It goes to show that certain things do work, even as we may think the wheels are coming off everything.
“The fact that they were here in a short space of time is something we should we should be grateful for.”
He said the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would have been “devastated” to witness the fire, with Parliament being a place he “supported, prayed for and wanted to see as the repository of the democracy he worked so hard for.”
“Much as it is disappointing and devastating, there is something we can be grateful for.”
Additional reporting by Cheryl Kahla