CAPE TOWN (AFP) – A man suspected of starting a devastating fire that gutted South Africa’s Parliament made his second appearance in court yesterday.
The blaze broke out in the Cape Town complex before dawn on January 2, spreading to the National Assembly, the roof of which collapsed.
Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested around the complex the same day and made his first brief court appearance three days later.
He initially faced charges of breaking into parliament, arson and intention to steal property, including laptops, crockery and documents.
Since his arrest, debate has raged in South Africa over whether Mafe, described in the local media as homeless, was responsible for setting the building on fire.
Ahead of the hearing yesterday, a group of around 30 people, picketed outside the Cape Town magistrate court demanding Mafe be freed, brandishing handwritten signs such as ‘Free Mafe’, ‘He is innocent’ and ‘He is not guilty’.
One homeless person recounted the events of the night the fire started. He was sleeping on a street near the Parliament complex and heard a sound like a car collision. He later suspected that was the break-in before the fire started.