Updated 39 minutes ago
A massive fire in the two Houses of Parliament in Cape Town has «burned» the entire National Assembly, where parliamentarians sit, a spokesman said on Sunday.
“The whole room where the members are sitting… burned,” said Molothu Muthappu, adding that the fire had not yet been put out.
No injuries were reported in the fire, which also spread to the wing that houses the current National Assembly, where parliament is located.
«The roof of the old assembly building has collapsed and is gone,» Jean-Pierre Smith, a member of the Cape Town Municipality Safety and Security Committee, told reporters earlier today.
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but an investigation has been opened.
“Someone has now been detained and is being interrogated,” he said.
The historic building houses a collection of rare books and the original copy of the former African national anthem «Die Stem Suid-Afrika» («The Voice of South Africa»), which was already damaged.
“The entire building was badly damaged by smoke and water,” Smith said, adding that the fire was “not contained.”
It began at about 0300 GMT on Sunday in the oldest wing of Parliament House, which was completed in 1884 and contains the wood-panelled rooms where MPs once sat.
It then spreads to newer parts of the complex that is currently in use.
«Firefighters are currently trying to get the fire under control in the new wing, as the fire affected the National Assembly Hall,» Parliament spokesman Moluto Muthabu told an online press conference.
The majestic red and white building was still shrouded in a thick cloud of black at midday.
A team of firefighters, who were the first to reach the site, were involved in putting out the flames for several hours before having to retreat and call in reinforcements.
About 70 firefighters were later deployed, some of whom used a crane to spray water on the fire.
The former mayor of Cape Town and current minister, Patricia de Lille, warned that it would last several hours before the fire was brought under control.
Inside the rooms, a rain of gray ash fell from the ceiling to the floor, which was already littered with debris.
Emergency services feared the fire could spread quickly through the old rooms decorated with wood, thick carpets and curtains.
Television images earlier showed giant flames leaping from the ceiling.
The area around the upscale neighborhood flames was quickly cordoned off.
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The garland extended to a plaza where flowers are still displayed in front of nearby St. George’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s funeral was held on Saturday.
After a simple, no-frills Mass, with a cheap coffin – according to Toto’s famously modest instructions – his ashes were interred in the cathedral on Sunday.
Cape Town has been home to the assemblies of South Africa’s parliament since 1910, including the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, while the seat of government is in Pretoria.
It was in Parliament that the last president of the apartheid regime in South Africa, F.W. De Klerk ended the brutal white minority regime in 1990.
The Houses of Parliament in Cape Town consist of three sections, with more recent additions constructed in the 1920s and 1980s.
Another fire broke out in the old wings of Parliament in March, but was quickly contained.
Cape Town suffered another major fire in April when a fire spread to the famous Table Mountain that overlooks the city, destroying part of the University of Cape Town’s library that houses a unique collection of African archives.
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