Alleged parliament arsonist Zandile Mafe in the dock at Cape Town magistrates court on January 11 2022. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Alleged parliament arsonist Zandile Mafe in the dock at Cape Town magistrates court on January 11 2022. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

The man accused of torching parliament says he was threatened with the death sentence after being arrested for arson on January 2.

In an affidavit submitted to Western Cape judge president John Hlophe in support of an urgent Cape Town high court bail application on Saturday, Zandile Christmas Mafe said he was arrested while sleeping outside parliament on the day of the fire, “severely and violently manhandled and intimidated” by the police and taken to Cape Town police station.

“A few hours later, I was booked out by an unknown man and taken to an unknown place,” the 49-year-old from Khayelitsha said in his affidavit.

“At the place, an unknown white man told me that I would be sentenced to death for burning parliament unless I co-operated with them.

“I was terrified and as a result I promised to 'co-operate' with whatever they may require of me. However, this turned out to be an empty promise from the white man as I was not released and I am still in police custody almost two weeks later.”

Mafe was not in court and his affidavit was submitted by defence lawyers, unsigned in view of what they described as the bail application's “extreme urgency”.

Hlophe adjourned the hearing until next Saturday, but on Tuesday Mafe's lawyers will appear before the judge president and at least one other judge to challenge a Cape Town magistrate's decision to send their client to Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital for 30 days' observation.

This followed a diagnosis by a state doctor that Mafe suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Zandile Christmas Mafe during his first appearance in Cape Town magistrate's court on January 4 2022. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Zandile Christmas Mafe during his first appearance in Cape Town magistrate's court on January 4 2022. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

In his affidavit, Mafe denied being guilty of starting the fire, being mentally ill or posing any threat to anyone.

“I am not a criminal but a poor person who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

“I am not a terrorist. I am an ordinary and destitute South African like millions of my fellow citizens. Like them I am angry about my conditions but I am not a violent man. I am also not insane.”

Mafe said he was born on Christmas Eve in 1972 in Mahikeng, and his biological mother died when he was very young. “I do not know what she looked like.”

He was brought up in Lonely Park by his stepmother, Zanele Mafe, and left school in grade 11, travelling to the Western Cape “looking for greener pastures”.

He had been unable to secure stable employment and had done occasional menial jobs such as carrying groceries to cars for shoppers.

The garden at Zandile Mafe's shack in Site B, Khayelitsha, where he says he has 'stayed for almost two years uninterruptedly'. Picture: PHILANI NOMBEMBE
The garden at Zandile Mafe's shack in Site B, Khayelitsha, where he says he has 'stayed for almost two years uninterruptedly'. Picture: PHILANI NOMBEMBE

“Very often the situation is so dire that it is economically unviable and impossible to commute daily between the city and my home in Khayelitsha,” he said.

“During those times I seek shelter in the streets of Cape Town like many thousands of very poor people. One of my spots for doing so is in the vicinity of parliament.”

Mafe said the first he knew of the fire was when he was woken by police officers shortly after 6am on January 2. He was dragged into the parliamentary precinct and “given boxes to carry by those members of the SA Police Service”,  he said.

“I do not know what the contents of the boxes were. My own belongings were confiscated.”

After being threatened by the “unknown white man”, he was taken to his home where police searched it, and when he appeared in the Cape Town magistrate's court for the second time on January 11 he was “ambushed” when the state asked for him to be sent to Valkenberg.

Mafe said though he would not discuss the merits of the case against him, he maintained his innocence and intended to sue for wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and “the violation of my rights to freedom and human dignity”.

He added: “I have and continue to be negatively portrayed in the local and international media. I am used as a scapegoat for the failures of those who were supposed to ensure that parliament was properly secured.

“No longer are questions asked about the responsibilities of those entrusted and well paid for securing parliament but the world's attention has been turned on me.

“The most bizarre feature of my arrest is the inability of the state to explain why I would have remained in the vicinity after committing an alleged crime. If I did not flee after committing such a crime, it should follow that I will not flee the resultant trial.

“I have every intention to stand trial, to prove my innocence and to proceed to sue the state.

“Following my experience at the hands of the state in the last two weeks alone, I am keen to tell my story on behalf of other poor and unemployed South Africans who are subjected to such humiliation on a daily basis.” 

Mafe said the decision to send him for psychiatric observation was “questionable and draconian”, adding: “If I am kept further in such cruel custody I may well become disturbed and the state will have achieved a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

He described the terrorism charge he faces as “trumped up [and] a transparent attempt and a cheap strategy to make my bail application more onerous”.

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