A man has been arrested following a large fire that severely damaged the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa.
According to police, the suspect, who is not a member of parliament, will appear in court on Tuesday to face charges of arson, housebreaking, and theft.
Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours.
President Cyril Ramaphosa described the incident as a “terrible and devastating event,” but vowed that parliament’s work would continue.
On Sunday, footage from the scene showed a plume of black smoke filling the sky and massive flames erupting from the building’s roof.
According to officials, the fire started on the third floor offices and quickly spread to the National Assembly (the parliament’s lower house) chamber, reports Nomsa Maseko of the BBC in Cape Town.
Because of the holidays, the parliament is currently not in session, and no one was hurt.
Thousands of treasures, including historic books, photographs, and important works of art, are housed in the building. There is particular concern that the valuable Keiskamma Tapestry, which measures 120m (394ft) and documents South Africa’s history, has been damaged or destroyed.
According to police, the suspect, who allegedly entered the building through a back window, will be charged under the National Key Points Act, which protects strategic sites.
According to Jean-Pierre Smith, a member of Cape Town’s mayoral committee for safety and security, private security used by the parliament in addition to police were not being paid overtime and were not on duty.
Parliament stated that some offices had been “severely gutted” and confirmed “significant damage” to the building’s New Assembly Wing, which houses the National Assembly chamber, where lawmakers sit.
The fire broke out shortly after 6:00 a.m. local time (04:00 GMT) the day after Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s state funeral at St George’s Cathedral, near parliament.
Mr. Ramaphosa, who was present at the scene, described the fire as a “terrible setback to what we were basking in yesterday.”
He claimed that the sprinkler system in the building was not working properly, and he praised firefighters for responding to the fire in minutes.
Mr Smith told reporters that the roof above the old assembly hall had “completely collapsed,” and that further damage inside the old chamber had yet to be assessed.
“It’s impossible to tell if it’s damaged or not. We hope not because it contains so many historical artifacts, but accessing it requires breaking down the doors, which we do not want to do “he explained
He also claimed that the fire alarm had only been activated after firefighters had already arrived on the scene.
Because of the building’s carpets and wooden floors, fire and rescue officials previously stated that it would take hours to completely extinguish the fire.