Citizen Reporter
Reporter
3 minute read
6 Jan 2022
6:09 pm

Parliament’s fire doors were rendered useless by cheap latches

Citizen Reporter

Doors installed to close automatically were held open by latches, installed to prevent them from closing.

Smoke billows out of the National Assembly building after the fire at Parliament on 2 January 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images/Brenton Geach

It has emerged that the fire doors in Parliament were not properly closed when the fire broke out on Sunday, due to latches specifically fitted to prevent them from closing.

A preliminary report on the fire, which caused further damage to the New Assembly building following another flare up earlier this week, is set to be released on Friday. The report is the work of a team of engineers that were deployed by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure on Monday to inspect and assess the damage to Parliament.

Latch

Included in the report is apparently a revelation that Parliament’s automated fire doors were already open when the blaze started, thus, resulting in the spread of the fire. 

According to Cape Town MMC for Safety and Security, JP Smith, the report found that the fire doors were disabled by being latched open.

“So it is not the price or the quality of the latch, the point is the fire door that is meant to compartmentalise a building so that fire doesn’t spread beyond a certain point were opened,” he told Radio 702 on Thursday.

ALSO READ: Parliament fire: Expert explains why repairs could take ‘many months’

Smith explained the fire spread because the doors were probably latched, due to the movement of people in Parliament.

“The fire doors are in passages and corridors where presumably people need to pass through, and so instead of having the difficulty in opening or closing those, some of them were simply latched.

“And that meant that when the fire came they didn’t do their job of denying the fire access to further areas and there’s a lot of fuel load in those halls, buildings and rooms, a lot of wood paneling and thick carpets… otherwise, lots of things that could burn,” he further said.

The Parliament building has since been handed over to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, to investigate the circumstances around the devastating fire.

The fire affected both the Old Assembly Wing and the National Assembly Wing of the buildings of Parliament, which house the chambers of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

Department of Public Works and Infrastructure engineers are also on site to determine if the affected buildings are safe for access by the Hawks.

The Hawks investigators are expected to gain access to the buildings once they receive confirmation from the multidisciplinary team of engineers, including structural, electrical, and forensic experts.

Arrest

A 49-year-old man, Zandile Mafe, was arrested in connection with the fire and will return to court on Tuesday.

Five charges has been brought against Mafe.

They include two counts of arson, theft, house breaking with intent to steal, destruction of essential infrastructure, and possession of explosive devices.

READ MORE: Parliament fire suspect’s attorney accuses the government of making him scapegoat

The suspect was allegedly caught with stolen property, after gaining entry to the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town.

He was said to be spotted by members of the Protection and Security Services (PSS) when they noticed the building was on fire.

Additional reporting by Narissa Subramoney