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.

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.”

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.

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.



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.

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.