Monday marks the first year since the devastating fire gutted the Old Assembly and new National Assembly buildings. Zandile Mafe who remains in police custody is accused of starting the fire.
The National Assembly building remains unsafe to enter as it was totally destroyed when the fire re-ignited on the 3rd of January after 4 PM.
The Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament had to meet urgently a few days later to take stock of the damage that was caused by the fire.
Five days later after the fire broke out, the City of Cape Town released what it called a post-incident report into the fire, prepared by its fire Department. The report which was released publicly was sent to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula:
“In the interests of transparency and following great public interest we release it publicly and without any additional comment. It (report) reflects the observations of professionals, but does not in any way constitute or substitute for a full forensic investigation conducted by professional fire investigators”, said Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis in a statement when he released the report on 7 January 2022
The report stated that the sprinkler valve at the National Assembly was last serviced in 2017. The City said the valve appeared to have been closed making it impossible to function during fire incidents. The report further revealed that the fire doors were latched open which assisted in the spread of the fire.
Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Mercedes Besent on Fire Department report:
Various investigations were conducted. The destruction of the National Assembly saw Parliament scrambling for accommodation to conduct its business. For the first time, the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the joint SONA debate were hosted outside the parliamentary precinct in February last year, at the Cape Town City Hall. The venue was made available by the City of Cape for Parliament to utilise. The hall was officially handed over to the Presiding Officers of parliament by Hill-Lewis on 1 February 2022.
Parliament’s Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo gives a reflection of how much progress has been made since the fire gutted the two historic buildings:
“Much ground towards restoring the function of parliament and support for its business has happened during the year of 2022, since the fire broke out on the second of January. A great amount of time was invested in the multi-disciplinary technical expert assessment of the damage caused, particularly to the structure and the quantification and cost of the damage. With the completion of this process which took approximately seven months, the national treasury through the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement was able to provide about 118 million rands towards ensuring business continuity of parliament and two billion rand toward rebuilding costs”
Mothapo says more progress is expected in 2023 to rebuild and ensure there are no interruptions to the work of Parliament:
“With this provision by the Minister of Finance we will now be securing a short to medium-term accommodation for the sittings of the National Assembly on the structural repairs or the rebuilding of the National Assembly chamber, the offices as well as the parts of the old Assembly Chamber, the new year. We were well trained by the COVID-19 disruption of two years to ensure business continuity amidst a crisis situation. And Parliament has ensured that there was minimal interruption in its work”
NEHAWU UNHAPPY WITH SLOW PROGRESS ON FIRE REPORT
The National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) in Parliament says it remains concerned about the slow progress of finalising the report into the fire and holding those who were either directly or indirectly involved in the destruction of the historic buildings, accountable:
“It is still our submission and our position, Parliament Branch, that the delay in the finalisation on the report on the causes of fire and those that might have played a role directly or indirectly leave a lot to be desired. As we speak now there is no report on Parliament fire. There is no report, a report that should have been compiled a long time ago. A year later there is no report. An action has recently been taken following the appointment of the new Secretary to Parliament, which include suspension of so senior officials, but we believe this action should have been taken a long time ago”, says NEHAWU Chairperson in Parliament, S’thembiso Tembe
Tembe says NEHAWU hopes that there will be no further delays this year.
” So, we are still very much concerned but we hope that since action has been taken against some of the senior officials, we will see the continuation of that an action and hope that we get closure, we get to the bottom of his particular issues. But delay itself does not inspire confidence. It’s an issue that should have been prioritised (a) long time ago, but as we speak the process is moving very slow, but we hope that in the beginning of the New Year we would see some action and the fast-tracking of the report. And an action that should be taken, our submission is that there is no way that such a monumental structure building which is significant to the democracy in South Africa could just be destroyed, demolished without any action against those that are responsible whether directly or indirectly”
TYAWA REMAINS ON SUSPENSION
The Deputy Secretary of Parliament’s Support Services, Baby Tyawa, who was the Acting Secretary to Parliament at the time, is one of the senior officials who remains on precautionary suspension. She was suspended in October last year to allow various investigations to unfold – including a probe into security breaches and the fire that destroyed the two buildings.
WATCH: NA BURNING AFTER FIRE REIGNITED