South Africa Parliament ravaged by flames

South African democracy damaged by a disaster. For several hours on Sunday January 2, a violent fire which has still not been brought under control by the dozens of Cape Town firefighters on the spot, has been raging at the seat of the South African Parliament. Aerial footage on television shows huge flames rising from the roof. The sprawling Victorian edifice with a brick red and white facade, comprising several buildings, is shrouded in a thick cloud of black smoke.

No casualties have been reported yet. The streets of the upscale neighborhood were quickly cordoned off. The security cordon extends to the flowers still spread on the forecourt of the nearby St. George’s Cathedral, where the funeral of Desmond Tutu, the last anti-apartheid hero who died on December 26, took place the day before. That very morning at dawn, his ashes were interred in the church in a private ceremony.

The fire broke out at around 2 a.m. French time (3 a.m. GMT), according to emergency services. A thick column of smoke was visible from several kilometers away, journalists from Agence France-Presse noted. Distraught Captonians waking up quickly shared photos on social networks. According to initial findings from firefighters, the fire started from the old building housing the National Assembly before spreading. The roof of the current Assembly has been hit: “The roof has caught fire and the National Assembly building is also on fire,” said Jean-Pierre Smith, responsible for the city’s fire and rescue services. .

A team of thirty firefighters who arrived first on the scene battled the blazes for several hours before having to back down from the intensity of the blaze and call for reinforcements. About 80 firefighters are currently on the ground. Some try, armed with a water lance from the top of a crane, to calm the fire.

“The fire is not under control and cracks in the walls of the building have been reported,” warned Jean-Pierre Smith. “The fire is currently on the 3rd floor, the first elements indicate that it started in the offices before spreading to the gymnasium”, he continued, admitting to fear “significant damage”.

The emergency services fear that the fire will spread quickly in these old rooms adorned with rich carpets and curtains. The origin of the fire is not yet known, investigators are on site. It was in parliament that the last white South African president to die last month, FW de Klerk, announced in February 1990 the end of the racist apartheid regime.

The city was already the victim of a major fire in April. A fire on Table Mountain overlooking the coastal city had spread and destroyed treasures in the prestigious Cape Town University library below. Cape Town is the seat of the Parliament made up of the National Assembly and an upper house called the National Council of Provinces, while the government is based in Pretoria.

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