Zandile Mafe: ‘Political activity’ of Parliament arson suspect raises eyebrows

Zandile Christmas Mafe, an unassuming man who lives in Cape Town, stands accused of starting the fire that gutted Parliament. Since his first court appearance on Tuesday, 4 January, details of his life have filtered into the public domain.


After Mafe’s court appearance, the police and media descended on his shack in Khayelitsha.

According to the New York Times, neighbours were suspicious of the possessions Mafe owns – a satellite dish, television and refrigerator. They said the accused always had money for alcohol, which he drank alone.

Neighbours say Mafe moved to Khayelitsha in August 2021 and kept to himself.

“He had things that people in the area who work don’t have. How do you explain that?” said neighbour Patrick Nkwela.

While Wendy Luhabe, who lives next door, commented that, he did not work but never missed a rent payment.

In Langa, where the accused settled for five years before moving to Khayelitsha, he is known by his second name, Christmas.

There, neighbours seemed fonder of the accused and said he liked to talk about current affairs and was vocal about his stance against corruption – without being threatening.

Mafe’s friend, Doreen Lekoma, told NYT the accused used to work for a bread factory but he lost the job in early 2021.

A former lover, Mbinde Andoni, told the international publication that she last saw Mafe on Christmas Day. She said he was wearing the same clothes he wore the day he appeared in court.

“He was clearly sleeping on streets. How would he know how to get into Parliament, what important areas and documents to burn? It doesn’t add up,” said Andoni.

Mafe’s interest in politics, according to his Langa neighbours, may explain why political paraphernalia was found in his Khayelitsha home.


Nkwela, street committee member in the area told TimesLIve that when detectives tossed Mafe’s house on Monday to look for evidence linking him to the parliament fire they found an ANC T-shirt, political newspaper articles from the 1980s and posters demanding the release of Janusz Walus who is in prison for Chris Hani’s assassination.

“They found an ANC T-shirt and placards demanding Waluś’s release by January 22. He also has politics stories dating back to the 1980s. He keeps them in a bag. That’s where his identity document was,” said Nkwela.

Maggie Base, another next-door neighbour – Mafe’s shack is fenced on a plot with two others – said she was shocked by the arrest and rarely spoke to the accused.

She said she complained to the landlord because she was bothered by Mafe’s behaviour.

“He is weird. He would sweep the yard and the street. I reported him to his landlord. I was concerned he doesn’t act sane. The landlord told me he is very educated. I left it at that,” said Base.

Patrick here says that inside Zandile Mafe’s shack there were posters and articles from apartheid days. He says he never saw any of the alleged posters that called for the burning of parliament #ParliamentFire

— Veve (@LudidiVelani) January 5, 2022

Despite the cries for Mafe to be freed, the state is convinced that the accused has charges to answer to and has said it will oppose his bail application.

Many South Africans seem to be overcome by a sense of incredulity ever since the first images of Mafe hit the internet and social media. This was compounded by a photograph of the accused sleeping in the parliamentary precinct in full view of the police. He was wearing the same clothes he wore in court.

According to Sunday Times crime reporter, Aron Hyman, the photograph of Mafe was taken after the authorities in the precinct had arrested him.

Zandile Mafe lying on the ground in the Parliamentary District. Photo: Twitter


Mafe’s family members were in disbelief when they heard the news.

“Really what happened to Zandile, I am very disappointed about it. Because from childhood when I grew with Zandile, Zandile is not a violent person,” said Mafe’s brother Alfred Matiwane to SABC News.

The brother described Mafe, who originally hails from Mahikeng, North West, as a loner who is reserved and polite.

Mafe’s other brother, Zamile Matiwane, told the public broadcaster that Zandile knows the truth and that the family deserves to be told exactly what took place before his arrest.

The family said it believes Mafe is being wrongfully prosecuted and they are seeking legal opinions on the matter.

Zandile Christmas Mafe (L), a suspect in connection to a fire at the South African Parliament, appears in the Cape Town Magistrates Court in Cape Town on January 4, 2022. – The fire began in the early hours on January 2, 2022 and devastated much of the parliament complex in Cape Town. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)


The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the 49-year-old is charged with housebreaking, two counts of arson, possession of an explosive device and destruction of essential infrastructure.

According to Mafe’s charge sheet, he was allegedly found in possession of stolen laptops, documents and crockery.

According to the charge sheet, the state also alleges that Mafe “wrongfully and intentionally placed [and] discharged explosives to whit volatile liquid in containers in the Parliament buildings” with the intent to cause damage.

It is unclear what the liquid Mafe allegedly used. Authorities who said they saw him in the parliamentary district on Sunday, 2 January arrested him. Shortly after the fire broke out.

Zandile Mafe is accused of contravening the Explosives Act. Photo: Supplied.

Luvuyo Godila, a lawyer who told reporters that he knows the accused from Khayelitsha, is representing Mafe pro bono.

Godila said his client moved to Cape Town six years ago and he intends to plead not guilty to all charges.

 “What interest would that poor man have in Parliament,” asked Godila. He added that placing someone next to the crime scene after an arrest does not mean they committed the crime.

Mafe’s next court appearance is expected on Tuesday, 11 January.

The initial trial was postponed because the State wanted more time to determine which schedule the accused will be charged under.

 The NPA is pushing for Schedule 5, while the defence insists Mafe must be charged under the lesser Schedule 1.

The NPA said the accused is likely to face additional charges.

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