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Arson suspect charged in fire at South Africa Parliament complex

Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Prosecutors on Tuesday charged a 49-year-old man with arson, theft, housebreaking and possession of explosives in relation to a fire that caused extensive damage to South Africa's Parliament buildings.

Zandile Christmas Mafe was charged with starting the fire which began early Sunday and wasn't extinguished until Tuesday morning.

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Prosecutors also charged Mafe with breaking state security laws since the building was a site of national strategic importance containing the National Assembly and lawmakers' offices.

Mafe's lawyer, Luvuyo Godla, said Mafe plans to plead not guilty. He is in custody with prosecutors arguing against bail.

The local from Cape Town's Khayelitsha township was spotted at the Parliament complex on Sunday morning shortly after the fire was reported.

He was found with stolen laptops, crockery and documents.

On Tuesday he appeared before a packed magistrates' court, appearing disheveled. He was dressed in a long-sleeved gray shirt, denim shorts and dirty sneakers.

Godla said Mafe moved to Cape Town six years ago and was unemployed. He accused the government of picking up a poor man to use as a scapegoat for its failure to protect its own infrastructure.

More charges are likely to be filed by the next court appearance, which is scheduled for Jan. 11.

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The full extent of the damage caused to parliament building hasn't been assessed.

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