Man arrested on suspicion of 76 murders after ‘starting deadly fire’

Firefighters extiguishing the fire on August 31, 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)
Firefighters extiguishing the fire on August 31, 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

A man was arrested after he told an ongoing inquiry he had set fire to a building and killed 76 people inside it.

The 29-year-old was taken into custody on Tuesday, after he made his claims about the horror which took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, last August.

Hundreds of the country’s poorest people lived in the Usindiso building, in the suburb of Marshalltown, when it went up in flames, killing dozens and injuring many others.

The suspect, who has not been named by local police, also faces charges of arson and 120 counts of attempted murder.

He said the blaze began while he was trying to conceal the body of someone he had killed on the night of the fire by beating him and strangling him, according to South African media reports of his testimony.

The man reportedly went on to say he then poured gasoline on the man’s body and set it alight with a match.

He claimed he struggled with drug addiction and was told to kill his victim by a drug dealer who lived in the building.

The inquiry he was testifying at isn’t a criminal proceeding and his confession came as a complete surprise.

South Africa has a long-standing issue with abandoned buildings being used as unsuitable housing by those who would otherwise be on the street.

They do not have running water, toilets or an official electricity connection and blazes are commonplace – from candles, fires lit for warmth and illegal, makeshift electricity connections.

Many of these places become “hijacked” by criminal gangs who then force tenants to pay rent and live under their control.

On Monday, Johannesburg’s Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said there are currently 188 “bad” buildings being investigated.

Homelessness and dangerous living conditions are a huge problem for South Africa, as 55.5 per cent of its population are living in poverty, according to the most recent analysis from the World Bank.

The country is battling skyrocketing unemployment, a chronic housing shortage and the fallout of apartheid-era city designs which saw people of colour banished to townships on the outskirts in order to maintain segregation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa previously said the Usindiso blaze was a “wake-up call” for the nation.

The suspect will appear in court soon.