Molefe Seeletsa
Digital Journalist
5 minute read
28 Jan 2022
5:33 pm

MPs told about security upgrade failures leading up to Parliament fire

Molefe Seeletsa

Saps divisional commissioner Samson Shitlabane said that security at Parliament never improved despite concerns being raised since 2013.

A fire at National Assembly Parliament on 2 January 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach

The South African Police Service (Saps) has confirmed that the four officers who were on duty when the fire broke out at Parliament earlier this month have been suspended.

Saps officials, including Police Minister Bheki Cele, appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management on Friday to brief the committee of the police’s role in providing security on the parliamentary precinct.

Parliament fire

Security upgrades

Saps’ Protection and Security Services (PSS) divisional commissioner, Samson Shitlabane explained to the committee that the police is responsible for security and protection outside of Parliament.

“Since 2004, the PSS Security Advisory Services [SAS] conducted five security assessments, with recommendations and audits, at Parliament.

“The security assessments and audit reports were submitted to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure for intervention,” Shitlabane said.

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Shitlabane said that security and protection at Parliament has never improved despite concerns being raised since 2013.

Shitlabane said then Saps national commissioner Riah Phiyega had written to the director-general of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure at the time “highlighting critical security concerns at Parliament”.

He indicated that there was a Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) joint meeting – which took place in 2016 – to discuss the implementation of the security upgrades at Parliament.

Another meeting, held in 2018, was convened to discuss the progress made on the security upgrades.

“There was a briefing [before] the portfolio committee on police and public works on the upgrade in terms of what needs to be done in Parliament,” Shitlabane said.

Shitlabane told the committee that Parliament’s secretary and the then divisional commissioner undertook a trip to Hungary in 2016 to benchmark Parliament’s security with international standards.

He also said that since the declaration of the parliamentary complex as a national key point in 2018, a joint planning committee (JPC), which would overlook the security and protection at Parliament, still needed to be established.

“In terms of all the national key points that have been declared then they would have a JPC structure, which the current Parliament does not have,” he added.

READ MORE: Destroyed Parliament building was not insured

The pending security improvements include the upgrading of Parliament’s perimeter fence height from 1.3 metres to 3 metres, which prescribed by minimum physical security standards.

Shitlabane added that PSS’ Security Advisory Services (SAS) division has conducted five security assessments, with recommendations and audits, at Parliament since 2002.

These security assessments and audit reports, the Saps’ division boss highlighted, were submitted to the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure for intervention.

Officers suspended

National deputy commissioner for policing, Lieutenant General Sehlahle Masemola told the committee that an investigation has been instituted against four police officers who were on duty when the fire broke out at Parliament.

Masemola said the officers have have been issued with a notice of suspension for failing to detect the security breach in Parliament.

The officers, who were on duty from 31 December, include a PSS relief commander and three CCTV monitoring room operators.

“They are busy with their representations, and that will be considered,” he said.

Video wall and cameras

Shitlabane pointed out that the officers could only monitor movements from a small screen instead of the video wall that is usually used.

The video wall, the Saps’ division boss said, was malfunctioning as a result power outage that occurred on 21 December last year across the City of Cape Town.

“The power outage resulted in the malfunctioning of the video wall for the entire duration, prior to the Parliament fire incident. It is reported that apparently the generators ran out of diesel,” he said.

“[So] the monitoring room that we have at 100 Plein Street could not monitor [movement] because the video wall, since 21 December, was down.

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“This means we were able to monitor the external cameras from a small screen, which gives us some challenges,” Shitlabane added.

The Saps’ division boss indicated that Parliament currently has cameras inside the building that are digital while the ones outside the precinct are analogue, while it also has three monitoring rooms that are not integrated.

“[The digital cameras inside Parliament] are quite clear so you’ll be able to see. But the external cameras we are monitoring are analogue [and] don’t have infrared system. [That] means [the cameras] are poor in terms of being able to identify any intrusion,” he said.

“The police were using a small monitor to look at what is happening outside. With the video wall, you can see much bigger, and in the absence of that video wall working, you are left with either a 22 or 20-inch monitor where you monitor the same work. We are not responsible for the repair of the video wall. We have reported it to the relevant authorities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Shitlabane said the absence of members of the Parliament Protection Services (PPS) meant there was no one available to monitor movements inside the building.

Sprinklers and alarm

Shitlabane added that Parliament’s fire alarm did not go off at the City of Cape Town’s Fire Department.

“The water valves that supply water to the sprinklers within the building were found to be closed. The fire alarm only went off when the fire brigade was already on the scene and extinguishing the fire,” he said.

According to the City of Cape Town preliminary report, the sprinklers had not been serviced since 2017.

In the report, Fire Department Station Commander, JJ Williams, said the sprinklers were supposed to be serviced in February 2021.

READ MORE: National neglect: Recent fires and damage to state property not a coincidence

Williams indicated that there was no water to trigger the automatic sprinkler system when the fire broke out on 2 January.

The fire burnt for two days as teams of firefighters battled to control the blaze and left Parliament’s Old and New Assembly buildings gutted.

The report also revealed that the National Assembly’s fire doors did not work because they were latched open.

An official report on the fire will be released soon, according to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as the Hawks continue to investigate.