S.African prosecutors charge parliament fire suspect with terrorism

Zandile Mafe, 49, had already been charged with arson in connection with the fire that started on January 2.

 South African President Ramaphosa inspects damages after fire broke out at Parliament building in Cape Town. (photo credit: REUTERS)
South African President Ramaphosa inspects damages after fire broke out at Parliament building in Cape Town.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The suspect in a fire that gutted parts of South Africa's 138-year-old parliament building this month was charged with terrorism on Tuesday, appearing in court for a case officials have described as an attack on the country's democracy.

Zandile Mafe, 49, had already been charged with arson in connection with the fire that started on January 2, but the additional charge of terrorism was added because he had also been caught with an explosive device, the prosecution said.

The blaze caused the roof of the newer part of the building to collapse, and also damaged the Old Wing dating back to 1884, when the Cape was under British colonial rule.

Built-in the ornate Victorian neo-classical style, against the backdrop of Table Mountain, the stately red-and-white parliament building is also one of Cape Town's tourist draws.

Some sections containing important heritage, like a museum with artworks, were saved, however.

: Former South African President Jacob Zuma stands in the dock after recess in his corruption trial in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, May 26, 2021 (credit: REUTERS): Former South African President Jacob Zuma stands in the dock after recess in his corruption trial in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, May 26, 2021 (credit: REUTERS)

The case was adjourned until February 11 and Mafe was ordered to be detained in a psychiatric institute, after pleas from his defense council that he suffers from mental illness. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the court building in central Cape Town, saying Mafe was innocent.

South Africa's parliament has played a crucial role in South Africa's transition over the past three decades from undemocratic white minority rule to a place where highly progressive legislation has been passed, helping roll back repressive apartheid-era policies.