S. Africa prosecutors reveal confession of alleged parliament arsonist
The man suspected of starting a fire that gutted South Africa’s parliament this month confessed to the crime after he was arrested inside the historic building, prosecutors said in court Saturday.
he man suspected of starting a fire that gutted South Africa’s parliament this month confessed to the crime after he was arrested inside the historic building, prosecutors said in court Saturday.
Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested after the fire broke out at the parliament complex in Cape Town, while firefighters were still battling the blaze on January 2.
“That was Christmas,” the prosecutors reported him as saying proudly, beating his chest as he was shown pictures of the burning parliament following his arrest.
he suspect has since pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, robbery and arson.
Defence lawyer Dali Mpofu has said that Mafe underwent mental health observation on January 3 and was diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia”.
he suspect, who is believed to be homeless, appeared in a Cape Town court on Saturday for a bail application.
he hearing was broadcast live on television.
According to an affidavit read out by the prosecution in court, Mafe said that it was “the right thing to put the parliament on fire as at the moment it is not helping the people of South Africa”.
He then went on the explain that he had acted to prevent President Cyril Ramaphosa from delivering a speech to the nation scheduled for February, as well as to demand his resignation, the release of the murderer of an anti-apartheid fighter, and 1,500 rand (96 US cents) in aid for all South Africans with no income.
It took scores of firefighters more than two days to extinguish the blaze, which tore through the wood-panelled legislature chamber where parliamentary debates are held.
– ‘Manhandled and intimidated’ –
Ramaphosa has described the arson as a “vain attempt” to threaten democracy.
Dressed in a black suit and with a defiant air, Mafe presented his face to photographers and journalists at the beginning of the hearing, as he has done at every court session he has attended.
When asked about his statement, apparently confessing to the crime, Mafe, who speaks in Tswana, one of South Africa’s official languages, said: “I am not guilty”.
He then refused to answer most questions.
“You have made it clear in an affidavit that you will plead not guilty,” said his lawyer Mpofu, a leading barrister who is defending him without payment and is best known for defending former president Jacob Zuma.
In his statement submitted to the court, Mafe claimed he had been “severely and violently manhandled and intimidated” by police.
aken to the police station, “a white man whom I did not know told me that I would be sentenced to death for burning down Parliament if I did not cooperate”, he said in the document.
Since his arrest, voices have been raised describing Mafe as a scapegoat, pointing to security lapses and failures in firefighting systems.
Some have described him as a scapegoat, pointing to security lapses and failures in firefighting systems.
However the prosecutor’s office said it had CCTV footage showing a man, dressed like Mafe when he was arrested, setting fire to the parliament building “using paper and boxes dabbed in petrol and dropping it into the National Assembly”, and of ripping up curtains to help start the blaze.
he defence has refused another mental health examination that could find him not responsible for his actions.
he defendant faces life imprisonment if found guilty.