Parliament uninsured — rebuild could cost taxpayers R1 billion

The bill to repair and reconstruct South Africa’s houses of parliament could cost taxpayers R1 billion as the building complex is uninsured, according to a Sunday Times report.

A fire started in the building complex, located in Cape Town’s city centre, on Sunday, 2 January, and the flames were finally doused following a three-day battle with firefighters.

Acting public works director-general Imtiaz Fazel said the cost of insuring the state’s property portfolio is unaffordable.

Currently, the property portfolio includes more than 82,000 buildings and is valued at R141 billion.

Fazel explained that in terms of Treasury regulations on managing losses and claims, “the state will bear its own damages and accident risks and be responsible for all claims and losses of state property”.

He could not provide estimations of the cost associated with reconstruction.

“Our engineers and architects only gained access to the fire-damaged areas on Tuesday afternoon. This team of multi-disciplinary experts and professionals is busy with an assessment of the damages,” he said.

However, the architect responsible for designing and supervising the construction of the National Assembly buildings told the Times it could possibly cost up to R1 billion to repair.

Imtiaz Fazel, acting director-general for public works

Sandile Christmas Mafe is accused of starting the fires and is being charged with arson in Cape Town’s magistrate’s court.

Mafe is believed to have entered through a window at 02:00 on Sunday, 2 January.

No security officers were on duty at the time, and the alarm was raised four hours later.

The charges against Mafe are controversial, with his attorney Luvuyo Godla saying that he was charged before investigations into the cause of the fire began.

Mafe was also charged before suspicions of an electrical fault starting the fire were revealed by Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith.

Smith said he would wait for the findings of an investigation by the Hawks’ “crimes against the state” unit.

If the CCTV footage police have of Mafe does not prove he started the fire, Smith said his guess would be the fire was caused by an electrical fault, similar to a fire that started in the building 10 months ago.

With fire detection and safety systems broken down, the fire was allowed to tear through the building, he said.

Sandile Christmas Mafe

An incident report from Cape Town’s fire chiefs revealed several irregularities that firefighters found:

  1. Fire doors designed to prevent flames from spreading were latched open.
  2. A sprinkler valve was closed instead of being chained open.
  3. Maintenance on the sprinkler system, scheduled for February 2020, was never conducted.
  4. Outdated first-aid equipment and poorly ventilated emergency staircases.

Siviwe Gwarube, DA deputy chief whip, called for a parliamentary inquiry into negligence by public works, police, and parliament, following the findings of an independent investigation.

“What has been clear over the past week is that there were security and safety breaches from the side of parliament and its protection services, the department of public works & infrastructure and the police,” she said.

“We can’t have a scenario where any of these entities are investigating themselves. That is why the DA has, from the very beginning, called for an independent forensic investigation.”

She raised concerns over the fact that the police or parliament’s security service had yet to reveal an account of the events that occurred.

“Even by the speaker’s own admission, questions must be answered about how this was allowed to happen at a national key point,” she said.


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Parliament uninsured — rebuild could cost taxpayers R1 billion