Push to move South Africa’s parliament to Pretoria

 ·3 Jan 2022

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has renewed calls to move South Africa’s parliament from Cape Town to the City of Tshwane in Gauteng.

The party has previously argued that such a move will help reduce costs, with members of parliament expected to maintain additional residences, vehicles and facilities in Cape Town, despite not living in the city.

While recent fire damage has renewed focus on a potential move, shifting parliament to Pretoria has been mooted for more than two decades.

Most recently, in February 2021, the Joint Standing Committee on Financial Management supported parliament’s move to Pretoria.

Co-chairperson of the committee, Dikeledi Mahlangu, said that although the committee is mindful of ‘certain onerous processes’ that still need to be followed before a move could take place, the committee is in full support of the idea.

“We share the same understanding with those members of parliament who hold a view that parliament should move from Cape Town to Pretoria, and we appreciate the fact that a commitment has been made on the side of the institution regarding this matter,” she said.

Mahlangu added that no further debate was needed on the issue but that a progress report on the move should be provided regularly.

The ANC first suggested moving parliament to Pretoria in the 1990s, but it was met with strong opposition from the provincial ANC body in the Western Cape, who campaigned against it.

At the time, the cost to move parliament to Pretoria would have been R237 million. Conversely, the cost to move the country’s administration to Cape Town would have been R23.5 billion.

A revised breakdown of the costs published in 2016 saw the costs to move parliament rise to R7 billion – but it was expected that this would save the country between R500 million and R750 million annually.

A 2019 analysis showed that the move would also mean uprooting 1,400 parliamentary staff and their families and would harm Cape Town’s economy.

Fire damage

The renewed call to move parliament comes after a blaze at South Africa’s parliamentary precinct in Cape Town broke out early Sunday (2 January) causing extensive damage to the legislative buildings. President Cyril Ramaphosa described the fire as “a terrible setback” for the nation and said it appeared that the legislature’s sprinkler system didn’t work as it was supposed to.

“While they have worked to stop Parliament from being razed to ashes, it is very clear that this fire has devastated the parliamentary precinct and its contents and assets, including Parliament’s historical treasures of heritage,” the president said.

“Parliament and the security agencies of government are looking into the cause of this incident, and we must allow these investigations to continue. While these investigations continue, I believe we are united as a nation in our sadness at this destruction of the home of our democracy.”

According to the city, the fire department dispatched a dozen vehicles and approximately 70 personnel to fight the inferno, the first arriving just six minutes after the alarm was raised.

The Old Assembly Chamber, one of the oldest buildings in parliament, and several offices were gutted, while the National Assembly, the main debating chamber, was severely damaged, Bloomberg reported.

Samantha Graham-Maré MP of the Democratic Alliance noted that the fire that ripped through the parliamentary precinct was the second fire in parliament in the last 10 months.

“While it is too early to speculate whether the cause of the fire could have been prevented, we need to question whether the extent of the damage could have been limited.”

Graham-Maré said that following the fire in March 2021, a report, printed in August 2021, was concluded by the Parliament Fire Incident Restoration Team which identified several issues pertaining to the Fire Warning Systems, as well as the Fire Fighting Equipment – both of which fall under the auspices of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.

“In particular, the lack of smoke detectors in the roof space of the Old Assembly Building, and that the existing smoke detectors in the building itself were practically obsolete were shocking revelations. There are clear recommendations in the report to address some of the failings identified.”

With further reporting by Bloomberg.

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