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South Africa Parliament Fire Flares up Again

Image source, AFP

A devastating fire that swept through South Africa’s Houses of Parliament in Cape Town has reignited – hours after it was said to be under control.

Flames have been billowing from the building’s roof. Firefighters are at the scene, trying to douse the blaze.

The fire first broke out on Sunday, totally destroying the National Assembly, or lower chamber.

Police have arrested a suspect who will appear in court on Tuesday on charges of arson, housebreaking and theft.

Authorities had warned that flare-ups would be possible because of carpets and wooden floors in the building.

“The void beneath the roof sheeting of the National Assembly is on fire,” city officials said.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa called the fire a “terrible and devastating event”.

He said the building’s sprinkler system had not functioned properly, and praised firefighters for responding to the fire in minutes.

The parliament is not currently in session because of the holidays, and no-one was injured.

Government minister Patricia de Lille said Sunday’s fire had led to the “complete burning down” of the National Assembly chamber.

CCTV cameras were not being monitored at the time the fire started on Sunday, she said.

Other areas of the parliamentary complex – parts of which date back to 1884 – were also badly damaged.

Ms De Lille said it was still too hot for people to go inside the building to check the extent of the damage, but a drone was being used to “assess the structure of the building until the temperatures can cool down”.

The building is home to thousands of treasures including historic books, photographs and important works of art.

There is particular concern that the valuable Keiskamma Tapestry, which is 120m (394ft) long and documents South Africa’s history, may have been damaged or destroyed.

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The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town are made up of three sections, with the oldest dating back to 1884. The newer sections built in the 1920s and 1980s house the National Assembly. The government is based in Pretoria.

Mr Ramaphosa on Sunday spoke of his sadness at “this destruction of the home of our democracy”.

Parliament said “all efforts” would be made to limit any disruption to its work.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis said the city’s Council Chamber would be made available as an alternative place for parliament to meet.

It was the second fire at the parliament in under a year. In March there was a fire caused by an electrical fault.

Last year, a fire ravaged part of the University of Cape Town’s library, which was home to a unique collection of African archives.

Image source, Rowan Spazzoli/Reuters

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