Your Monday Briefing: South Africa’s Parliament Burns
Good morning. We’re covering a fire in South Africa’s Parliament, a breach in the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea, and possible changes to women’s rights in China.
Smoke billowed from the National Assembly building in Cape Town.Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times
South Africa’s parliament burns
A large fire damaged much of the Houses of Parliament on Sunday. Officials warned that the damage to the historic complex would be extensive.
Officials said the fire spread from an office space on the third floor of a building adjacent to the old National Assembly building. Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service spokesman warned that the buildings themselves were at risk of collapse, given the intense heat of the fire.
Parliament’s spokesman said that a man in his early 50s was arrested in connection to the fire, but he did not give any further details.
Details: No injuries or fatalities have been reported. Parliament was not in session.
Quotable: “The entire parliamentary complex is severely damaged — waterlogged and smoke damaged,” said JP Smith, Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, adding that “the roof above the old assembly hall is completely gone.”
Desmond Tutu: The blaze broke out a day after South Africa bid farewell to the archbishop with a simple funeral. Tutu’s death has reignited a conversation about the country’s reconciliation process and its democracy.
A breach in the DMZ
The South Korean military said on Sunday that an unidentified person had crossed the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea.
Footage of the person climbing a tall barbed-wire fence — the southernmost of multiple fences in the 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone separating the Koreas — was captured by South Korean cameras at 6:40 p.m. on Saturday. Sensors on the fence set off an alarm, the military said.
But this latest security lapse at one of the world’s most heavily armed borders went unnoticed until 9:20 p.m. There was no immediate response from North Korea.
Details: Defections across the DMZ are rare and dangerous, and crosses from South to North are even rarer. The DMZ is bristling with fences, sensors, minefields, sentry posts and armed patrols, and nearly two million troops are ready for battle on both sides.
Background: The two Koreas have technically been at war for decades — the Korean War halted in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty. Some 33,800 North Koreans have defected to the South since famine struck the North in the 1990s.
Separately: Kim Jong-un has begun his second decade as North Korea’s leader with a vow to alleviate the country’s chronic food shortages, a problem that he inherited from his father 10 years ago.
China signals change on women’s rights
Beijing has framed proposed revisions to China’s law governing women’s rights as a major victory.
The revisions would be the first major changes to the law in nearly 20 years and would refine the definition of sexual harassment, affirm prohibitions on workplace discrimination and ban forms of emotional abuse.
On paper, it seems like a triumph for activists. But many women are skeptical that real progress will follow.
The government has sought to control China’s fledgling #MeToo movement. It is rare for victims of sexual harassment to go to court. Some women have been fired or fined for lodging accusations. Peng Shuai, a star tennis player, was censored within minutes after she said on social media that a top Chinese leader had pressured her into sex.
Context: Women have been increasingly pushed out of the workplace and into traditional roles since China’s leader, Xi Jinping, assumed power. Many of the proposed revisions already exist in other laws or regulations but have been poorly enforced.
Details: The law would also codify women’s right to ask for compensation for housework during divorce proceedings — after the first-of-its-kind decision by a court last year to award a woman more than $7,700 for her labor during her marriage.
THE LATEST NEWS
At least 12 people were killed in a stampede near Jammu in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, where thousands of devotees had gathered at a Hindu shrine to mark the new year.
The authorities in China have turned to advanced tech to track and silence critics on overseas social media.
The man that the police suspected of setting the fire that killed 25 people in a psychiatric clinic in Osaka, Japan, died in a hospital.
Evergrande, the troubled Chinese property developer, said that it was ready to start building again just weeks after being declared in default. Buyers are skeptical.
Around the World
The U.S. military is focusing on the Islamic State cell that it believes was behind the August attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed nearly 200 people.
A Times investigation revealed flaws in the Pentagon’s dismissals of civilian casualty claims in Iraq and Syria.
Bosnia’s fragile multiethnic government is facing its greatest crisis since the Balkan wars, as the Serb nationalist leader, Milorad Dodik, threatens to tear the country apart.
Twitter permanently suspended the personal account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for repeatedly violating its Covid-19 misinformation policy.
A U.K. report found that people who contracted the Omicron variant were about half as likely to need hospital care as those infected with the Delta variant, and one-third as likely to need emergency care.
South Africa said that it had passed its Omicron-fueled fourth wave without a major spike in deaths.
Here’s a look at what it’s like to leave prison during a pandemic.
What Else We’re Reading
Prenatal blood tests that warn of rare disorders are usually wrong.
Santander UK accidentally paid about $175 million to tens of thousands of people on Christmas Day.
Venice, Italy will replace a multimillion-dollar bridge made of glass and steel and designed by the star architect Santiago Calatrava, after too many tourists slipped.
A Morning Read
South Korea, which has the highest gender wage gap among the wealthy countries, has seen slow gains in women’s rights. Now, a growing number of young men are protesting feminism, arguing that they are the victims of gender discrimination in the country’s cutthroat job market.
Lives lived: Betty White, who created two of the most memorable characters in sitcom history, Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the sweet but dim Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” died. She was 99.
Understand the Evergrande Crisis
What is Evergrande? The Evergrande Group, a sprawling Chinese real estate giant, has the distinction of being the world’s most debt-saddled developer. It was founded in 1996 and rode China’s real estate boom that urbanized large swathes of the country, and has millions of apartments in hundreds of cities.
How much does it owe? Evergrande has more than $300 billion in financial obligations, hundreds of unfinished residential buildings and angry suppliers who have shut down construction sites. Things got so bad that the company paid its overdue bills with unfinished properties and asked employees to lend it money.
How did the company get into financial trouble? For decades, China’s real estate market operated unrestrained. But recently, Beijing started taking measures, including new restrictions on home sales, to tame the sector. Evergrande borrowed heavily as it grew and expanded into new businesses, and eventually ended up with more debt than it could pay off.
Why does Evergrande’s fate matter? The company’s collapse would reverberate around the world, affecting global markets, the millions of jobs the company creates and hundreds of thousands of employees. China’s whole residential and commercial real estate market, which drives up to a third of China’s economy, could crumble.
How has the Chinese government addressed the crisis? Beijing sat on the sidelines for months as Evergrande neared financial collapse. It wasn’t until December that the company said officials from state-backed institutions had joined a risk committee to help restructure the business.
Where do things stand with Evergrande now? For months, the real estate giant averted default by making 11th-hour payments on its bonds. But on Dec. 9, a major credit ratings firm declared Evergrande in default after it failed to meet a payment deadline. What is next for the company, bankruptcy, a fire sale or business as usual, has yet to be determined.
ARTS AND IDEAS
To the moon — and beyond
This year will be a big one for spaceflight and exploration. Here are a few things to watch for in cosmic news during this trip around the sun.
The moon: If 2021 was the year of space tourism and robotic missions to Mars, expect the moon to take center stage. Several governments are launching moon-bound spacecraft, with an eye toward returning humans there later this decade.
Meteors: On a few special dates this year, skywatchers will be able to catch meteor showers bursting through the darkness. Here’s an overview with tips on ways to watch, including finding dedicated dark-sky areas in cities.
Rockets: Two massive rockets are expected to debut. The NASA Space Launch System, designed to ferry astronauts to and from the moon, will strike out on its first test flight. And SpaceX is building Starship, a reusable rocket, to expand tourism to Mars.
China: The country says it will finish building the Tiangong space station in orbit in 2022. (In 2021, it already sent two different crews of astronauts to live there.)
You can keep track of these and more big moments by subscribing to The Times’s space and astronomy calendar.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
This coconut-lemongrass tapioca with caramelized citrus is bright, soothing and sweet.
What to Listen to
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Now Time to Play
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
And here is today’s Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia
P.S. Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated is joining our Sports desk as a general assignment reporter.
The latest episode of “The Daily” revisits Texas after the storm in February.
You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].