Images of the scene showed flames emanating from the top of a building, sending dense black smoke into the sky above Parliament and into neighboring streets.
The fire broke out Sunday morning, and for more than 12 hours, dozens of firefighters were still trying to contain the blaze. No injuries or damage were reported.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the sprinkler system was not working as expected and that authorities were investigating the fire.
Ramaphosa praised the fire brigade for working to “prevent the parliament from collapsing to ashes”, but said the fire had “destroyed the parliament complex and its contents and property, including the parliament’s historical treasures”.
Cape Town mayor responsible for safety and security J.P. Smith told a news conference outside parliament that “the entire parliament complex was badly damaged, water was stagnant and smoke was rising.”
“The roof of the old assembly hall is completely gone and the adjoining offices and gymnasium have been demolished,” Smith added. “The National Assembly room behind me was burned down, the structural ceiling collapsed and firefighters were called back shortly after.”
A spokesman for the Cape Town Fire and Rescue Department told CNN that firefighters were actively involved in putting out the blaze in the National Assembly building of Parliament on Sunday evening. The first and second floors of the old assembly building were “completely burned” by the blaze, and the third floor roof of the old assembly building had collapsed the previous day, the spokesman added.
The Parliament complex, some of which date back to 1884, contains a collection of buildings. The National Assembly, or Lower House of Parliament, is located in what is now known as the New Wing. The Upper House, or National Council of Provinces, is located in what is now known as the Old Legislature.
The fire started in the office area of the premises and spread to the National Assembly Room. Firefighters arrived at the scene after 6 a.m. and encountered some difficulties in gaining access due to security features in the building, Smith said.
Smith said the fire alarm system was not working properly because firefighters were at the scene before the system alarm went off.
“The power supply to the premises was not cut off when the fire broke out. This created a very dangerous situation and the power supply to the entire block was cut off. The fire detection equipment took some time to operate so the fire was active for some time,” he added.
According to President Ramaphosa, Tutu also “would have been devastated [parliament] The repository of democracy where he worked so hard was the place he supported, prayed for and wanted to see.
Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille previously told a news conference outside parliament that there were no injuries.
“This is a very sad day for our democracy because parliament is the home of our democracy and parliament is a strategic key point,” De Lill said.
Smith said Sunday’s fire was more serious than any other fire in parliament in March 2021. In the March incident, a fire broke out in the old assembly and no one was injured.
Eleanor Pixon contributed to this report.
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