Parliament fire: Zandile Mafe rubbishes claims he is a trained operative

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Alleged arsonist Zandile Christmas Mafe appears at the Cape Town Magistrate's Court in connection with the fire at Parliament.
Alleged arsonist Zandile Christmas Mafe appears at the Cape Town Magistrate's Court in connection with the fire at Parliament.
PHOTO: Gallo Images/Daily Maverick/Leila Douga
  • Zandile Mafe has rubbished social media claims he is a Russian- or Chinese-trained operative. 
  • He says he has nothing to do with any military veterans' associations which may have knowledge of explosives. 
  • Mafe, who is accused of starting a fire at Parliament, is challenging a court-ordered 30-day psychiatric observation and wants to apply for bail. 

Zandile Mafe has rubbished social media claims he is a Russian- or Chinese-trained operative who allegedly caused the fire at Parliament.

He said he had nothing to do with any military veterans' associations which might have explosives knowledge.

Mafe added the first he knew of the fire was when the police woke him up outside the parliamentary precinct.

This was revealed in an affidavit submitted to the Western Cape High Court by his legal team, which brought an urgent bail application for him on Saturday.

In the submission, Mafe said he believed there was no video footage of him walking in the precinct at the time of the fire, which gutted the National Assembly building and took two days to extinguish.

He claimed the police gave him two boxes of unknown content to carry when he was taken in for questioning, and that he was manhandled.

Mafe's statement cleared up confusion over whether he lived on the streets or in Khayelitsha.

READ | Mafe gets go ahead for urgent challenge to psychiatric evaluation

He said his fixed address for the past two years was a shack in Site B, Khayelitsha, but because he only did menial work and carried groceries for tips, he could not always afford to travel home. 

Mafe said he slept outside the precinct sometimes, and went to his shack to check if it was still secure, and for a change of clothes. 

The accused, whose middle name appears to originate from his birthday on Christmas Eve, added he was aggrieved at being detained and unable to apply for bail until his psychiatric evaluation was done. 

Represented by Dali Mpofu SC and Luvuyo Godla, he intends to argue that keeping him at Valkenberg Hospital for 30 days infringes his constitutional right to apply for bail within seven days of his arrest.

Mafe is also planning to launch a civil damages claim against the police for what he regards as his unlawful arrest and incarceration. 

In the affidavit, he said he was born in Mahikeng, North West, in 1972. 

His mother died when he was young, and he and his two brothers were raised by his father, a security guard, and his stepmother, who was unemployed.

Money was always tight in the Mafes' home in Lonely Park, so he left high school in Grade 11 for the "greener pastures" of the Western Cape, where he hoped to find work. 

However, he battled to find a stable job. 

Mafe stated that on 2 January, he was sleeping outside the parliamentary precinct when the police woke him up. 

"I then noticed for the first time that the large Parliament building was ablaze with black smoke escaping from the roof."

He alleged he was manhandled, and as the police took him into the parliamentary precinct, they gave him boxes to carry. 

"I do not know what the contents of those boxes were. My own belongings were confiscated by the SAPS.

"In the process, the members of SAPS accused me of having caused the fire which was burning in Parliament. I denied this."

READ | Most media refused entry to urgent Mafe bail hearing

Mafe said he was taken to Cape Town police station, but was then booked out by an unknown man and taken to an unknown place by car.

He was told there he could get the death sentence for burning down Parliament, and he should co-operate with the police. 

South Africa does not have the death penalty. 

"I was terrified, and as a result, I promised to 'co-operate' with whatever they may require of me. However, this turned out to be an empty promise from the white man as I was not released, and I am still in police custody two weeks later."

He was also taken to Khayelitsha when his shack was searched by the police. 

Mafe said when he was taken to court on 4 January, there was no charge sheet but at that stage he faced Schedule 1 charges of housebreaking, arson and theft. 

But at his next appearance, where he expected to apply for bail, his lawyers were given a charge sheet with housebreaking, intent to steal, theft and arson charges, and an additional Schedule 6 terrorism charge. 

READ | Parliament fire: Alleged arsonist Zandile Mafe starts mental observation, embarks on hunger strike

And instead of going ahead with the bail application as expected, he found himself ordered to go for a psychiatric evaluation for 30 days. 

This began on Thursday when he was fetched from Pollsmoor Prison and taken to Valkenberg Hospital. 

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said the State argued for this at the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on the strength of a pre-appearance evaluation by the district surgeon who diagnosed Mafe as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. 

His lawyers said they believed proper procedures were not followed in the referral, and secured the slot on the Western Cape High Court's urgent roll for Saturday morning for his bail application. 

Most media houses were not allowed to attend on the grounds that they had not applied in writing, and due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

The next sittings are expected to be hybrid with proceedings being streamed live.

After a brief sitting, his lawyers were given leave to first challenge the 30-day observation order on Tuesday, and then next Saturday they will return to apply for bail.

Mafe said he felt it was important to be in court to give evidence if necessary, and he could not do this while under observation. 

"Following my experiences at the hands of the State in the past two weeks alone, I am keen to tell my story on behalf of other poor and unemployed South Africans who are subjected to such humiliation on a daily basis.

"I am not a criminal but a poor person who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time," he added.

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