Man suspected of killing 77 in Johannesburg fire arrested

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A firefighter looks out of broken windows at the scene of a fire in a building in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. — AFP
A firefighter looks out of broken windows at the scene of a fire in a building in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. — AFP

South African media reported Tuesday that Gauteng police have taken into custody a suspect associated with the Usindiso building fire in Marshalltown, Johannesburg that killed at least 77 people in August last year.

SABC reported while quoting Gauteng police spokesperson, Dimakatso Nevhuhlwi: "The suspect was arrested after he confessed before the Commission of Inquiry into the Usindiso building fire"

On August 31, last year, a fire erupted in a five-storey building — an abandoned residence controlled by local gangs and leased to families who could not afford housing. 

Authorities have not yet ascertained the cause of the fire however, the reports indicate that the investigation is underway.

Authorities added that the 29-year-old is also expected to face charges of arson and 120 counts of attempted murder, as he confessed to "being involved in starting the tragic fire" while giving evidence during a session of the inquiry.

A firefighter extinguishes the fire at a building in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. — AFP
A firefighter extinguishes the fire at a building in Johannesburg on August 31, 2023. — AFP

Last year’s blaze that erupted in the Usindiso building was a residence of hundreds of poor people.

The blaze brought into light the neglected issues of buildings and constructions by their owners.

A South African television station Newzroom Afrika had reported at that time that the fire engulfed the building that had been abandoned at one stage but where people had been living.

Among the injured, some suffering from smoke inhalation, and were taken for treatment at local hospitals, Emergency Management Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi had said at that time.

"The latest update is that we have now 73 fatalities and 52 people injured who were transported to various healthcare facilities for further medical care," said Mulaudzi.

The building is located in a deprived area of what used to be the business district of South Africa's economic hub, and was used as an informal settlement, Mulaudzi had said.