By Nthakoana Ngatane

A 49 year old suspect is expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate court on Tuesday 4 January, to be charged with arson for allegedly setting parliament on fire, as well as housebreaking and theft.

“The suspect was allegedly caught with suspected stolen property after he gained entry to the parliamentary precinct in Cape Town unauthorised” says a statement from the South African Police Service – SAPS.

SAPS’s Bragadier Thandi Mbambo says “the man was spotted by members of the Protection and Security Services when they noticed the building was on fire.” and he will be charged under the National Key Points Act.

But it’s still not clear how he gained access past the security services in the first place.

Mbambo says the matter was referred to the Hawks’ Crimes Against the State (CATS) team for further investigation.

Police say they are still investigating the motive for the suspect’s actions.

Parliament officials said the fire spread from an office on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly, and it spread toward a gym, the rooftops, and the National Assembly that is now gutted.

Firefighters in Cape Town, South Africa, on January 2. (Elmond Jiyane/GCIS)

The chief whip of the official opposition, Democratic Alliance, Natasha Mazzone, says parliament must continue its work and hold the executive to account.

“It cannot be denied that the upkeep of Parliament, security and general maintenance has been headed on a downward trajectory for the last ten years. The buildings have become neglected, dirty, dangerous and certainly not befitting of the home of South Africa’s democracy. Today’s disastrous fire has been a catastrophe just waiting to happen.” says Mazzonne

She says chief whips must meet urgently to ensure that an independent investigation is conducted, led by fire, arson and forensic experts to ensure that nothing is missed or overlooked.

Mazzone says the chief whips must also decide where the joint sitting of parliament will take place for the state of the nation address, and ensure that it proceeds as planned in February.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said it was a devastating occurrence, and he applauded city of Cape Town and fire officials for what he called a great job.