Zandile Mafe wanted to burn Parliament to prevent SONA, demand president's resignation, court hears

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49-year-old suspect Zandile Christmas Mafe appears in Cape Town magistrate Court.
49-year-old suspect Zandile Christmas Mafe appears in Cape Town magistrate Court.
Gallo Images/Brenton Geach
  • The State has alleged that Zandile Mafe confessed to setting fire to Parliament.
  • This emerged during a bail application at the Cape Town Regional Court on Saturday.
  • Mafe faces a raft of charges, including arson and terrorism.

The man suspected of starting a fire that gutted 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, while firefighters were still battling the blaze on 2 January.

"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 faces several charges, including terrorism, robbery and arson.

Mafe's advocate, Dali Mpofu, Sc, has said that Mafe underwent mental health observation on 3 January and was diagnosed with "paranoid schizophrenia".

The accused appeared in the Cape Town Regional Court on Saturday for a bail application. His case was postponed to 4 February.

According to an affidavit given to investigators immediately after his arrest and 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 the State of the Nation Address (SONA) scheduled for February, as well as to demand his resignation, the release of Janus Walusz - who murdered Chris Hani - and R1 500 in aid for all South Africans who have no income.

WATCH | Drone footage shows extent of devastating fire that ripped through Parliament

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 alleged 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, said: "I am not guilty."

He then refused to answer most questions.

READ | Parliament fire: CCTV was working but no one was watching. Where were the police?

"You have made it clear in an affidavit that you will plead not guilty," said Mpofu, 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.

Taken 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.

Prosecutors claim to have 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.

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