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Historic Western Cape church badly damaged in student protest arson attack

Posted on: September 28, 2017 2:22 PM
The “badly damaged” undercroft at St Mark’s Church in District Six following an arson attack on the building at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Photo Credit: St Mark’s Church, District Six, Cape Town
Related Categories: Cape Town, fire, Protest, Southern Africa, university

A 130-year-old church in District Six at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in Cape Town has been badly damaged in a suspected arson attack. The building was set alight last night (Wednesday) during the latest in a long-running series of sometimes violent protests at the campus. The church’s undercroft and hall bore the brunt of the damage. The protests relate to the suspension of four students last month as a result of their involvement in demonstrations about student facilities and in-sourced workers. The protests have continued despite the university obtaining a temporary court order prohibiting students from unauthorised occupation of campus buildings.

Security officials at the university alerted police and fire fighters and detained a 20-year-old student who was alleged to have been in possession of a petrol bomb.

Speaking to South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, Western Cape police spokesperson Capt Frederick van Wyk said that officers from the South Africa Police Service in Cape Town Central “received information that the church building at CPUT was on fire. Whilst on their way they arranged for the fire brigade to extinguish the fire.

“On their arrival a 20-year-old suspect was handed over to them by security personnel who caught one of the suspects with a petrol bomb in his possession.”

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Standing in front of police tape which acts as a cordon around the church building, clergy lead a congregation in prayer at an impromptu outdoor service.
Photo: St Mark’s Church, District Six

On Thursday lunchtime, the Rector of St Mark’s, the Revd Austen Jackson, was joined by clergy from neighbouring Anglican and other churches, including a retired Moravian bishop, and members of the laity for an outdoor service at which prayers were said for the church.

“Our heartfelt thanks to all who came to pray with St Mark’s congregation and rector at St Mark’s during the lunch hour today,” the church said. “We sincerely appreciate your warm support and prayers.

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Clergy and laity at an impromptu outdoor prayer service at St Mark’s Church, District Six in the Western Cape, after an arson attack on the building.
Photo: St Mark’s Church, District Six

“Special thanks to the Acting Archdeacon of the Groote Schuur Archdeaconry, Venerable Donny Meyer, the Archdeacon of Cape Town Archdeaconry Venerable Karl Groep, the retired bishop of the Moravian Church Augustyn Joemath and his wife Lettice, fellow clergy, senior representatives of CPUT, St Mark's Church members, friends.”

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Clergy and laity at an impromptu outdoor prayer service at St Mark’s Church, District Six in the Western Cape after an arson attack on the building.
Photo: St Mark’s Church, District Six

The church serves an area which, in the Apartheid era, was declared a “whites only” district, resulting in the forced removal of more than 60,000 people. In a statement today, the diocese of Cape Town berated those responsible for trying to destroy a church “which played a pivotal role in the struggle for justice and freedom”.

“For many years during the apartheid era‚ St Mark’s stood as a beacon of hope to all who were forcibly removed from District Six,” the diocese said. “When everything around it was destroyed‚ it stood out amid the rubble as a beacon of resistance‚ withstanding being demolished by the apartheid government.

“Today it stands as a heritage site‚ an island of resistance amidst the towering modern buildings‚ as a reminder of the painful past. It is therefore disappointing for all associated with St Mark’s District Six that a place of worship could come under attack.”