Saturday, January 22

Suspect of firing South African parliament accused of terrorism offenses | South Africa

A man suspected of starting a fire that destroyed South Africa’s parliament appeared in court for the second time on Tuesday to face a new terrorism charge, in addition to charges of robbery and arson.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested in the vicinity of the Cape Town parliamentary complex after the fire broke out on January 2 and appeared in court three days later.

The magistrate, Zamekile Mbalo, granted prosecutors a month’s delay to determine Mafe’s mental state and whether he “is fit to stand trial” after a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Mafe was initially charged with breaking into parliament, arson and intent to steal property, including laptops, tableware and documents.

Prosecutors said the additional terrorism charge was filed after investigators viewed CCTV footage of parliament on Monday.

The new charge said that the “defendant is guilty” of violating laws on the “protection of constitutional democracy against terrorism and related activities,” according to a court document.

“The defendant unlawfully and intentionally delivered, planted, discharged or detonated an explosive or other lethal device in … the parliament building for the purpose … of causing extensive damage,” he said, without elaborating.

The fire broke out before dawn on January 2 and spread to the National Assembly, whose roof collapsed.

A defense attorney, Dali Mpofu, said Mafe underwent mental observation on January 3 and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Mpofu is one of South Africa’s most famous lawyers, whose high profile clients include former President Jacob Zuma. He said Mafe was seeking bail.

Mafe has promised that if “he is not released, from now on he will embark on a hunger strike,” Mpofu said in the small courtroom.

Mpofu said that Mafe, who has been widely described as a homeless person in local media, “does not understand why the government, which was unable to feed him when he was poor outside and managed on his own, is now so interested in feeding him for a weather”. another period of time ”.

Mpofu said his client believed he was being “victimized and attacked particularly because he is poor.”

Another defense attorney, Luvuyo Godla, told reporters that they were appearing pro bono (without charges) for Mafe.

Unlike his first court appearance, where he was bearded and dressed in a gray shirt and knee-length denim shorts, on Tuesday Mafe arrived clean-shaven in a light blue shirt and dark jacket.

He turned to the photographers as he entered the field, then repeatedly shook his head from side to side and removed his mask.

Since his arrest, a debate has erupted in South Africa about whether Mafe was responsible for setting the building on fire.

Protesters outside court on Tuesday demanded his release, saying he was a scapegoat.

A group of about 30 people picketed outside, brandishing handwritten banners that read “Free Mafe”, “He is innocent” and “He is not guilty.”

Surveillance cameras located Mafe on the premises of the building at around 2:00 am (00:00 GMT). “However, the security officials only saw it at 6:00 am, when they looked at the screens after being alerted by the smoke,” Development Minister Patricia de Lille told AFP last week. “Certainly, there was a security breach,” he said.

A preliminary report from the city of Cape Town last week said the fire detection system appeared faulty and that “the sprinklers did not activate.”

It took dozens of firefighters more than two days to extinguish the blaze, which tore through the wood-paneled legislative chamber where parliamentary debates are taking place.

Extensive damage has rocked South Africa, and President Cyril Ramaphosa said over the weekend that such incidents undermined the country’s security and stability.

However, the historical treasures housed in the parliament complex that were initially feared destroyed were saved, parliament said last week.

“The museum, which includes works of art and heritage objects,” such as “the Keiskama tapestry on the ground floor of the old Assembly building,” was saved, it said in a statement.

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