Frederick Mhaganzo, the man accused of starting a fire in Cape Town, was released on R500 bail at the Cape Town Magistrates Court on Wednesday, 28 April. Mhangazo was initially charged with arson, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment, but National Prosecuting said there was not enough evidence to justify the charge.
Mhangazo is now charged with allegedly contravening the National Environmental Management Act, which carries a possible sentence of three years.
According to reports, Mhangazo was represented by pro bono lawyer Shaun Balram at the Cape Town Magistrates Court and his charges were reduced from arson to contravening the National Environmental Management Act, but it is not clear which section of the act he allegedly violated according to the state.
Mhangazo was granted R500 bail and the matter was postponed for further investigations. When the court proceedings resume on 18 June, it will take place at the Cape Town District Court.
Until 18 June, Mhangazo – who was homeless at the time of his arrest on 18 April – will stay at Our House, communal housing in Oranjezicht that was established after the Strandfontein camp for the homeless was shut down during the early days of lockdown.
Mhangazo’s lawyer, Shaun Balram said that Our House invited his client to become a resident, which was important to the success of his bail application, as the courts often struggle to verify the addresses of homeless people and they end up in prison for long periods.
Mhangazo is from Tanzania and came to South Africa to study Information Technology at the College of Cape Town. He has allegedly been waiting for a study visa since his arrival and has been living near the slopes of Devil’s Peak in a plastic structure. The state is investigating if Mhangazo has indeed applied for a permit.
Balram said the possible sentence for contravening the Environmental Management Act was three years.
On Sunday, 18 April, SANParks said their initial investigation found that the Cape Town fire originated from a “vacated vagrant fire.” They added that the conditions – high temperatures and low humidity – played a massive part in the rapid spread of the blaze. Approximately 600 hectares of land was burnt.
Mhangazo was arrested near the slopes of Table Mountain on Sunday night after witnesses claimed to see three men attempting to start more fires.
Earlier that day, a wildfire started at Rhodes Memorial and ravaged parts of the University of Cape Town.
Mhangazo was never linked to the devastating blaze that destroyed historic buildings and led to home evacuations.