A violent fire brought down the roof of the South African Parliament.

source: guardian.com

A violent fire brought down the roof of the South African Parliament.

No casualties have been reported, but the historic building, which houses a valuable collection of books and the original copy of the first national anthem, is badly damaged. The fire has not yet been controlled.

Part of the roof of the South African Parliament collapsed in Cape Town in a fierce fire declared this Sunday that remains uncontrolled by dozens of firefighters who for several hours have been trying to douse the flames in a brutal fight.

No casualties have been reported, but the historic building houses many books. The original copy of the first Afrikaans national anthem, "Die Stem Suid-Afrika" (The Voice of South Africa), is already severely damaged. During apartheid.

The roof of the old National Assembly building collapsed. City Fire Safety spokeswoman Jane Pierre Smith told reporters there was nothing left. "The complex has been badly damaged by smoke and water," he added, adding that "the fire could not be contained."

The fire broke out in the old parliament building around 05:00 (03:00 GMT). First of all, there are rooms covered with precious wood, where deputies used to sit.

The fire then spread to the newer parts currently in service.

The origin of the fire remains unknown, but "one person was arrested and is being questioned," said President Cyril Ramaphosa, who went to the scene.

"The firefighters are now trying to control the fire in the new wing, where the fire affects the current hall of the national assembly," declared Parliament's spokesman, Moloto Nothapo, in an online press conference.

This large Victorian building, with several outbuildings, was still shrouded half a day in a thick cloud of black smoke.

Streets cut off

The residential neighborhood streets where the Parliament is located were quickly closed. The security cordon extends to the flowers still on display in the atrium of the neighboring Saint-Georges Cathedral, where the funeral of Desmond Tutu, the last hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, died on December 26, was held the day before. The same morning his ashes had been buried in the church during a private ceremony.

A team of 30 firefighters was the first to arrive on the scene. They fought the fire for several hours before backing down due to the intensity of the fire and calling in reinforcements.

When the fire was visible from the highway, backup fire trucks arrived. About 70 firefighters are currently on the scene.

According to the city's former mayor and current minister, Patricia de Lille, it will take several more hours until the situation is under control.

Fire crews fear that the fire will continue to spread rapidly in the former parliament halls, adorned with thick carpets and draperies. The exact origin of the fire is not yet known.

According to AFP journalists, a thick plume of smoke was visible from several kilometers away.

Historic building

In this massive red brick, white-fronted Victorian building, the last apartheid-era president, FW de Klerk, had announced in February 1990 the end of the racist regime.

Cape Town already suffered a major fire in April on Table Mountain, which destroyed the treasures of the library of a prestigious university.

Cape Town is the seat of Parliament, made up of the National Assembly and an upper house called the National Council of Provinces. The government is based in Pretoria.