/ 11 January 2022

Parliament fire suspect to be sent for psychiatric observation

Safrica Politics Parliament Fire Court
Zandile Mafe, who faces charges of terrorism and arson, on Wednesday admitted in the Western Cape high court that he had set fire to parliament at the beginning of last year. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

The man accused of setting parliament on fire will go under psychiatric observation for 30 days at the Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, following a referral from a district surgeon who found that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. 

Zandile Christmas Mafe appeared in the Cape Town magistrate’s court on Tuesday, 11 January, on six charges including a new one of terrorism under the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act.

A neatly shaven and formally dressed Mafe previously appeared on five charges of housebreaking with intent to steal and theft, two counts of arson, one count of destroying essential infrastructure by “setting fire to the parliament building/national assembly” and for being in the possession of explosives. The state has withdrawn a charge of destroying essential infrastructure. 

Prosecutors allege that Mafe detonated an explosive or lethal device in parliament “with the purpose of causing extensive damage, or destruction where the result is a major economic loss”.

For the terrorism charge, which falls under a schedule six offence, the state will request a written letter of approval from the national director of public prosecutions at the National Prosecuting Authority, Shamila Batohi

Advocate Dali Mpofu, for Mafe, described the added charge as “an ambush”. He requested that his client be offered a chance to apply for bail. Senior state advocate Helene Booysen rejected the defence’s claims of ambush. Booysen told the court the state was recommended to ensure Mafe was mentally evaluated. 

A district surgeon from Karl Bremer Hospital, who examined Mafe a day after his 2 January arrest, found that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. However, on Tuesday, Mpofu argued it would be “abuse” if Mafe were to be detained for months only to be found “sane”.

Outside court, a large crowd gathered in support of Mafe. Members of several political affiliations, including the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, chanted for his release. 

Back in court, after a brief adjournment, Mpofu said his client had made clear that he would embark on a hunger strike should his bail application not proceed. He said Mafe did not understand how the state could not have fed him while he was on the street as a homeless person but could now feed him in prison. 

Mpofu added that his client was “victimised and targeted” as “there is nothing wrong with him”.

Magistrate Zamekile Mbalo said Mafe must be observed when prima facie evidence recommended it and ruled, based on the state’s evidence, that the accused be sent for mental observation. Mafe will be detained at Pollsmoor prison while waiting to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital. 

The case was postponed to 11 February. The defence indicated it would bring a bail application, but no date was set.