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'I am not responsible for dropping the ball': Mapisa-Nqakula says she can't take blame for parliament blaze

National Assembly speaker and former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. File photo.
National Assembly speaker and former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deaan Vivier

National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula says she will not take responsibility for the fire that gutted parliament on Sunday.

In a heated exchange with a News24 journalist, Mapisa-Nqakula said she had been in office for less than three months and therefore could not be blamed for the disastrous blaze.

“I am really sorry if you are trying to align that with the fact that I started a few months ago, which is two or three months ago. I am not responsible for any dropping of the ball in terms of security in parliament," she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said based on a report she had received, all cameras in the precinct were working — contrary to a report circulating that the cameras were not working. She said this was confirmed by the acting secretary to parliament, Baby Tyawa, and a department of public works and infrastructure official responsible for cameras.

She was responding to a question on whether she would admit to having dropped the ball and would take responsibility for what happened. This was in light of poor security in parliament and in the context of previous reports that outlined potential risks and loopholes in terms of safety.

Mapisa-Nqakula said parliament was a national key point and its security was the responsibility of both its own officials and the police. She urged journalists to “try to be smart sometimes when we raise questions”.

Only certain buildings and certain venues in parliament are national key points.

“This lady here, at any given time, has always ensured that she defends the democracy she so hardly fought for. This woman here. OK?" she said, pointing at herself.

“And I will not take responsibility for anything that you are suggesting, which is that there may be charges of treason for me as speaker because parliament burnt down.”

She said, in fact, she was the one person who came out on Sunday and said that any attack, if there was an attack on parliament, would be an attack on the democracy of the people of SA.

I will not take responsibility for anything that you are suggesting, which is that there may be charges of treason for me as speaker because parliament burnt down.
National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula

“The implication of what you are saying is that I must take responsibility because I dropped the ball. I am here for two and-a-half-months to three months ... and up until now, there is nothing that suggests there was dropping of the ball by parliament.”

National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Amos Masondo confirmed that the National Assembly chamber and the National Assembly building have been gutted.

“We can confirm that one of the biggest losses the people of South Africa have suffered in this fire is the complete burning down of the National Assembly chamber, a seat of crucial plenary sittings of the National Assembly and joint sittings of the two houses,” he said.

“The assembly, as one of the two houses of parliament, occupies an important place in the history and evolution of our constitutional democracy. This is the house where over 2,000 transformative pieces of legislation have been passed since the dawn of our democracy.”

Masondo said the National Assembly building was the third of a series of interlinked buildings. It was built between 1983 and 1985 to accommodate the expanded needs of the apartheid tricameral parliament.

Masondo said some important sections like the NCOP chamber and office, the parliament library and the museum — including artworks and heritage objects and the Keiskamma Tapestry on the ground floor of the Old Assembly building — were saved.

He said multi-agency investigations were under way and would be in full swing once the building was declared safe and handed over to the investigation team.

“We wish to assure all the people in South Africa that we will leave no stone unturned to enable appropriate actions to be taken by all relevant authorities,” he said.

Public works and infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille said a team of experts, including engineers and an architect, arrived in parliament on Monday to assess the extent of the damage.

De Lille said the team would deliver a preliminary report by Friday morning.

“For today, they could not gain access into the fire scene. The temperature inside the building is about 100 degrees Celsius, down from over 400 degrees yesterday. What they have done in the meantime is to use a drone that they are putting inside the building to assess the structure of the building until the temperatures can cool down.”

She said the engineers will focus on the repairs that need to be done, their cost and time frames.

A fire expert to determine exactly where the fire started had also been brought in, said De Lille.

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