A major fire has broken out in South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town.
Firefighters are still battling to contain the blaze more than six hours after it began and authorities fear that the historic building has already suffered significant damage.
The fire is thought to have started on the third floor and then spread across to the National Assembly chamber.
Jean Pierre Smith, a member of the Cape Town mayoral committee, said that the old Assembly Hall’s roof was now “completely gone” and that it was not yet possible to assess the state of the chamber:
“It is not possible to see whether it’s damaged.
“We hope it is not because it has so many historical artefacts, but you can’t gain access to it without breaking the doors down and we don’t want to do that,” Mr Smith told journalists.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was in Cape Town for the funeral of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, described the news as “devastating”:
“This is devastating news. It’s a terrible and devastating event,” the President said.
“Particularly after we gave the Arch[bishop] what I would call the best send off… It’s just really a terrible setback to what we were basking in yesterday.
“The Arch[bishop] would have been devastated as well.”
— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) January 2, 2022
Cause not yet known
No casualties or injuries have been reported and the cause of the fire has not yet been established.
However, speaking to journalists, Patricia de Lille, South Africa’s Minister of Public Works, confirmed that an investigation into the blaze was already under way:
“This is a very sad day for our democracy because parliament is the home of our democracy,” Ms de Lille said.
“And parliament is also a strategic [meeting] point. All matters will be investigated, the police have started to investigate.”
South Africa’s Houses of Parliament date all the way back to 1884 when it was a British colony. Newer parts of the building were added in the 1920s and 1980s.
Main image: Firefighters gather outside South Africa’s parliament. Picture by: SA Police Service.