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S. Africa Man confesses to starting parliament fire but pleads not guilty

Zandile Christmas Mafe during the hearing on Saturday 29 January 2022   -  
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South Africa

South African prosecutors revealed on Saturday that the man accused of causing a devastating fire at Parliament in January confessed to starting the fire in an event that shocked the nation in early January.

The 49-year-old suspect, Zandile Christmas Mafe, was arrested on the morning of 2 January inside the historic building while firefighters were still battling the blaze.

The man, who is believed to be homeless, was taken into custody and appeared in Cape Town on Saturday for a bail application. The hearing was broadcast live on television.

In an affidavit read during the hearing, Christmas Mafe said that setting fire to parliament was "the right thing to do because it does not help the citizens of South Africa".

The suspect also told investigators that he did it to prevent President Cyril Ramaphosa from delivering a speech to the nation scheduled for February and to demand his resignation, the release of the murderer of an anti-apartheid fighter 95 dollars in assistance for all South Africans with no income.

Firefighters struggled for more than 48 hours to bring the fire under control, which caused no casualties "but totally destroyed the National Assembly". Cyril Ramaphosa called the act a "futile attempt" to threaten democracy. 

Since his arrest, a few individuals have pointed out the security lapses and failures in firefighting systems. An investigation had earlier on revealed that the fire-fighting system was defective and maintenance was not up to date. Furthermore, the presence of Christmas Mafe on the premises was not detected until several hours later.

However, the prosecutor's office said it had CCTV footage showing a man, dressed as Christmas Mafe at the time of his arrest, "setting fire to the parliament building with paper and cans soaked in petrol". With a soda bottle filled with petrol in his hand, "this person tore curtains to start the fire," the prosecution said. 

At an earlier hearing, Mpofu said Christmas Mafe had been diagnosed as a "paranoid schizophrenic". But the defence refused a new psychiatric assessment that would exonerate him. 

The defendant faces life imprisonment.

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