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Suspect in South Africa’s Parliament fire appears in court

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The man suspected of starting the fire that gutted South Africa’s Parliament buildings appeared in court yesterday and will remain in custody pending a bail hearing.

Zandile Christmas Mafe faces several charges including arson, theft, housebreaking and contravention of the National Key Points Acts, which restricts access to government buildings, according to the local Eye Witness News website.

Mafe’s lawyer said he denies the charges. Mafe was arrested on the premises of the Parliament complex by police after they noticed the fire on Sunday morning. The Parliament complex in the centre of Cape Town includes some buildings that are 130 years old.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Eric Ntabazalila told journalists outside court that Mafe was also found with an explosive device, but didn’t give further details.

Police haven’t ruled out the possibility of more arrests, said a spokesman for the Hawks special investigative unit of the police Nomthandazo Mbambo.

“We’re going to be conducting a full investigation and we think there may be other people involved but at this stage, the focus is on this one until the investigation can dictate otherwise,” Mbabmbo told media outside the courtroom.

The fire destroyed South Africa’s main Parliament chamber, offices and other buildings nearby on Sunday. It flared up again on Monday when winds picked up and burned through other offices. Firefighters battled the renewed blaze until midnight, officials said.

Parliament was closed for the holidays and no injuries have been reported in the fire.

Zandile Mafe appears in the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town, South Africa. PHOTO: AP