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South Africa’s soaking wet parliament delays arson trial

A South African court on Friday delayed the trial of the man accused of burning down parliament in January, saying the legislature was too waterlogged for investigators to gather evidence.

About 50,000 litres of water, enough to fill a swimming pool, still sits in the basement after firefighters extinguished the January 2 blaze, prosecutors said in a statement.

The water “needs to be cleared for the forensic investigators to be able to determine the costs and amount of damage. This is needed when dealing with arson and terrorism charges,” the statement said.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, 49, was arrested while firefighters were still battling the blaze.

“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.

Mafe has since pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, theft and arson.

The next court date was set for May 12.

Firefighters took more than two days to extinguish the blaze, which tore through the wood-panelled legislature chamber where parliamentary debates are held.

Initial reports showed that sprinklers failed. Repairs are projected to cost one billion rand ($68.6 million, 62.4 million euros) and could take five years to complete.