South Africa has been stunned by the footage of massive flames rising from the buildings of Parliament in Cape Town. We could never have imagined a moment like this, when we would see a national key point and the centre of our democracy go up in flames. It has left us distraught.
When reports first emerged on Sunday morning, I could not believe what we were seeing. My first thought was the indescribable loss of heritage assets that can never be replaced. There was great concern over the Keiskamma Tapestry, invaluable art works and original documents. My fear was that the fire would extend to the Library of Parliament.
Yet when the news came that a second fire had started, in the National Assembly, it was clear that the damage would be devastating. Now, in the aftermath, it is difficult to reconcile the image of a burnt and hollow shell with the hallowed chamber in which our country’s history has played out for some forty years.
I entered the National Assembly for the first time in 1994 as our democratic country’s first Minister of Home Affairs. I remember President Mandela taking the podium for the first time, and the Honourable Frene Ginwala leading proceedings in the House as Speaker of the National Assembly. When I think of the past 28 years of my life, and how much of it has been spent in that Chamber, I cannot fathom that it no longer exists.
We have lost more than mortar and precious stone, more than wood and brass. We have lost a symbol of our strength and unity. It is, undoubtedly, a national disaster. I want to echo what the IFP’s Chief Whip, the Hon. Mr Narend Singh, has said throughout this trying time. We cannot change what has happened. Now is the time for thorough investigations to ensure that this never happens again.
On behalf of the IFP and all my colleagues who serve in the National Assembly, I want to express our deepest gratitude to all those who have been working tirelessly to fight the blaze, to protect the remainder of the parliamentary precinct and to find hotspots that could potentially flare again.
We are tremendously grateful to the exceptional firefighting teams under Chief Fire Officer Ian Schnetler and Divisional Commanders Mariette Retief, Simon Abrahams and Frank Forbay. The Fire Stations of Roeland Street, Sea Point, Salt River and Goodwood have led the charge, ably assisted by almost all fire stations in the City of Cape Town who sent relief crews throughout the past two days.
We also thank the Media Liaison Officer Jermaine Carelse for keeping us informed of the situation on the ground. It has been particularly difficult watching from outside, knowing the dangers these brave men and women have faced as they fight the blaze inside Parliament’s buildings.
As answers begin to emerge as to the cause and the motives behind this disaster, it is important that we stand together and offer our full support to those who are assisting at Parliament. We appreciate the Speaker’s reports to the Chief Whips’ Forum and the details being provided by the Minister of Public Works. It is our fervent hope that there will be no further flareups, so that a full investigation can begin as soon as possible.
In this tragic moment, we must stand together as a nation, acknowledging our loss. It is great indeed.