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Man Suspected of Setting South Africa’s Parliament On Fire Was Carrying Explosives, Investigators Report

Zandile Christmas Mafe appeared in Cape Town Court on Jan. 4


The arson suspect involved in the fire that destroyed the main chamber of Parliament in South Africa was caught with explosives, authorities report.

The fire began on Jan. 2 and reignited on Jan.3 after being contained by firefighters. Several buildings were damaged, including the meeting place of the National Assembly.

Zandile Christmas Mafe has been charged with two counts of arson. He has also been charged with one count of “housebreaking” with the intent to steal “laptops, crockery, and documents,” one count of destruction of essential infrastructure, and one count of possession of an explosive device.

Through his representation, he denied any involvement. Mafe says he is the victim of mistaken identity.

Luvuyo Godla, his lawyer, repeated this claim, saying Mafe was being made a “scapegoat” and incorrectly detained. Godla also said who was paying Mafe’s legal fees “is very privileged” and that he was taking the case pro bono.

The 49-year-old is the only person who has been arrested in connection to the fire. He appeared in court in Cape Town on Jan. 4.

“Mafe, who lives in a township called Khayelitsha which is south-east of the city centre, took off his mask and turned slowly to allow the photographers to capture his face during his appearance,” reports BBC News.

He is expected to apply for bail, which the state is likely to oppose because of the severe nature of the charges.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) requested a postponement while waiting for the damage assessment from Parliament and the verification of the suspect’s information,” per The South African.

Mafe was remanded into custody until Jan. 11, when the case will resume in court following the state’s review of the damage.

“Investigators have not been able to go inside Parliament … to the crime scene to assess how much the damage is because the crime scene was still active,” NPA Western Cape spokesman Eric Ntabazlila told the media outside of the court.

Video of the blaze and firefighters’ effort to contain it were posted to social media.

When it was finally put out around 10 P.M. local time on Jan. 3, approximately 20 firefighters remained at the scene.

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis announced that the city’s council chamber would be available for parliamentary meetings. The building is expected to be out of use for the next several months.

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