On the Devastating Fires at South Africa’s Parliament
4 January 2022
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.