St George's Cathedral fire: Man arrested for arson sent for mental health assessment

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A fire broke out in the basement of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday morning.
A fire broke out in the basement of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town in the early hours of Sunday morning.
  • A man who was arrested for allegedly stating a fire at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town has been sent for a mental health assessment. 
  • He is expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court afterwards on a charge of arson.
  • The fire was put out quickly and caused minimal damage.

A man who was arrested for allegedly starting a fire at the historic St George's Cathedral in Cape Town over the weekend, was sent for a mental health assessment on Tuesday. 

He was expected to appear in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court on an arson charge.

Outside of court, defence lawyer Shaun Balram said the man would first be assessed by a district surgeon at Somerset Hospital in Cape Town. 

According to Balram, his client denies starting the fire and says he was just in the vicinity of the cathedral at the time.  

The fire was started in the basement of the Cathedral.

The man is understood to hail from Atlantis and alternates between sleeping on the street in the city and returning to Atlantis. 

"He is charged with arson," Balram said. "It is a very serious crime."

He can't be named because he has not yet appeared in court.

He was allegedly identified on CCTV footage retrieved from a hotel in Wale Street.

READ | 'Someone was spotted running away' - arson suspected after fire at St George's Cathedral

In a social media post, cathedral dean Reverend Michael Weeder said the fire was reported before 02:00.

"The fire was an act of arson. It appears that a lit piece of cotton/gauze was thrown through the small, barred window near the steps leading up to the cathedral's Wale Street entrance. Someone was spotted running away from the cathedral," Weeder said.

"The burglar bar had to be broken so that the firefighters could gain access. The cloister area door also had to be broken open as, at one stage, the firefighters thought the fire was actually inside the cathedral. A police docket has been opened and an investigation [is] in progress."

The church is a block away from the precinct of Parliament, where the National Assembly building was gutted on 2 January.

Zandile Christmas Mafe, who was arrested after the fire at Parliament, successfully challenged a decision to have him sent for a psychiatric observation instead of allowing him to apply for bail. He also alternated between living on the street, and going back to his shack in Khayelitsha, depending on his cash flow for taxi fare.

Balram represented Frederick Mhangazo at no charge when he was arrested last year on suspicion of starting a fire on the side of the main fire which burnt through large parts of Table Mountain, and spread to a library at UCT. 

Balram said the charges against Mhangazo were dropped after he made representations to the National Prosecuting Authority. 

Visible security is increasing in Cape Town ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address on Thursday.

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