‘Shattered parliament building symbol of SA’s misery’

Henry

Two years after South Africa’s parliament building was damaged by a devastating fire, charred beams and broken tiles still protrude from the shattered roof.

For many South Africans, the arson and scars partially hidden behind the monumental white and red facade symbolize the country’s ills as it enters the election year.

The rebuilding of the parliament building is still delayed and the 400 legislators of the National Assembly have been forced into a much smaller hall in the city that can only accommodate 170 of them.

An investigation into the arson – committed by a man declared unfit to stand trial – found that the guards were asleep during the incident and that a series of security lapses contributed to it.

“The fire and its aftermath highlight a failing state that cannot maintain basic services, ignores safety standards and where planning is in tatters. All this creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and general insecurity,” Sandile Swana, a political analyst, told AFP.

According to the parliament spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, the main reconstruction of the complex will start in January and take about two years to complete.

“It took two years to obtain funding and permits, remove debris and artifacts in the buildings and lay the foundation,” he added.

Charred ‘Aspirations’

With 2024 marking three decades since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, the start date itself is steeped in symbolism.

Mothapo told AFP that the repairs will help ensure that the parliament building is “restored and made even better”.

“This institution is not just bricks and cement. It carries the hopes and aspirations, and the future of the great majority of South Africans.”

Mothapo says the renovated building will “add elements of modernity” and house a larger room that can house a joint session of the two houses of parliament.

Meanwhile, not all MPs are lucky enough to get seats for sittings and the public must now watch debates online. This harms transparency, says Brett Herron, of the GOOD party.

“Parliament is not functioning as it should. It is unreasonable to expect South Africans to accept this arrangement for at least another two years.”

Dianne Kohler-Barnard, DA MP, says the downsizing has “summarily taken away that drive, that feeling of hustle and bustle and getting things done”.

‘Neglect and Incompetence’

MPs are also still asking questions about how the alleged arsonist, Zandile Mafe (50), managed to get into the parliament grounds on the night in question. A court has since ruled that he is unfit to stand trial on charges of arson and terrorism due to schizophrenia.

Court hearings and a parliamentary report revealed a series of failures in the security and maintenance of the parliament building.

Security footage shows Mafe wandering around the site undetected for more than 24 hours.

He can be seen pouring petrol on boxes and newspapers and talking on the phone – something that has led to speculation that he may have been following orders.

Officers who were supposed to monitor CCTV cameras were asleep.

The fire system did not contain the flames and smoke and initial reports indicate that the sprinklers failed.

The DA labeled the failures as “the epitome” of the rule of the ANC, which according to the opposition party is “characterized by neglect and incompetence”.