Parliament fire: These new clues may answer some burning questions

A preliminary report on the Parliament fire that ravaged the Old and New Assembly buildings contains some startling revelations. City of Cape Town MayCo Member for Safety, JP Smith, said the fire doors were already open when the blaze broke out. There is also evidence that suggests the fire may have two points of origin.


Smith told CapeTalk host John Maytham that the report, which was prepared by the City’s Fire and Rescue Service, indicated that the fire doors were already open when the fire started on Sunday, 2 January.

“The indication was that amongst other things that have already been reported in the media, the fire doors were disabled by being latched open,” said Smith.

The Western Cape government has committed to conducting a risk assessment to make sure that all its facilities are prepared for “the impossible.”

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, 6 January, the Chief Director of Disaster Management in the province, Colin Deiner, said there are two types of fire suppression systems, according to the Daily Maverick.

Deiner said active systems are made up of sprinkler and ventilation systems, while passive systems, include fire doors and walls – the latter is more common in older buildings such as Parliament.

The Disaster Management Chief also said the roof of the building – where much of the fire took place – was a problem because it had no firewalls, unlike modern buildings, which may have prevented the fire from spreading.

Cape Town Fire Chief Ian Schnetler said when the Parliament fire reignited on Monday afternoon it was because the heat trapped in the roof was ventilated by the strong wind. “With a little bit of ventilation, the fire caught hold in between the roof voids up on the fifth floor. Then the fire spread from there quite rapidly.”

“It is alleged that the systems were not working and this would have definitely had a negative impact,” said Diener of the fire.

“I think it is very important to realise that a fire suppression system on its own cannot put out a fire. What is key to this process is that you need your emergency services to work together with your fire suppression system.”


Smith said the fire doors might have been kept open – with latches – to allow ease of movement through Parliament. “The fire door may have either slowed the fire or denied access to other areas.”

He added that the fire alarms did not immediately go off and the sprinkler system was ineffective, all of which contributed to the massive blaze.

“You did have a bit of a perfect storm with the sprinkler system not doing what it should, the fire detection alarms not being connected to a central board… the alarms were not connected as they were meant to be,” said Smith to CapeTalk.


Smith said, according to the preliminary report, there is some evidence to suggest the Parliament fire originated in two different areas and that forensic experts will have to explore this possibility.

“They were very much fighting fires in two different spaces, the New Assembly and the Old Assembly area,” said the MayCo Member.

He added that there was a section of the building between the Old and New Assembly that was unaffected by the fire. “It was hard to understand how that happened.”

A 49-year-old man, Zandile Mafe, was arrested for allegedly starting the fire. The State has charged him with housebreaking, two counts of arson, possession of an explosive device and destruction of essential infrastructure.

His lawyer said the accused intends to plead not guilty to all charges. His next court appearance is expected on Tuesday, 11 January.

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