Family shocked top student started deadly Usindiso Building fire

“We knew nothing about this case until three policemen came knocking to verify an address on Wednesday.”

The family of the man charged with murder, Sithembiso Lawrence Mdlalose, expressed their shock in these remarks upon discovering that their loved one was the main suspect in the Usindiso Building fire.

Twelve children were among the 77 people who perished in the fire, and 86 others were injured. The 31-year-old Mdlalose is facing a charge of arson, 76 counts of murder, and 86 counts of attempted murder.

A relative informed Sunday World that Mdlalose was a bright student who received at least four distinctions on his National Senior Certificate.

Addicted to drugs

The relative, who wished to remain anonymous, described Mdlalose as a strong, responsible person who did not have many friends.

“He would take responsibility for household duties without being told or asked when he had money. I need to tell you this because this boy is a good boy,” said the relative.

“I am baffled while trying to put the pieces together after hearing that his name is attached to this big case. He would not harm one person; imagine 76 people dead because of him.”

Magistrate Ulanda Labuschagne revealed that Mdlalose’s relatives had last seen him in 2017. This came out when the police contacted them this week for address verification.

“Mdlalose decided to live on the streets. We have not seen him for such a long time. I would be lying to you if I could say when I last saw him.”

Sunday World discovered that the family was also not aware of Mdlalose’s drug addiction.

In his testimony two weeks ago to the commission of inquiry investigating the Usindiso Building fire, Mdlalose admitted to retired judge Sisi Khampepe, the commission chair, that he was the cause of the fatal fire.

Said a relative: “If anything, he was always praised for bringing good results home. He would always help the other children with homework.”

The family supports Mdlalose

The relative sobbed and told Sunday World that the family is supportive of their loved one.

“His father was very present in his upbringing; they even lived together on their own. When Sithembiso saw that his drug addiction was getting worse, why did he not find a way to come home?

“When this fire happened, why did he not find a way home? My boy should know that he is not alone.”

Mdlalose returns to the Johannesburg magistrate’s court on March 6.

He is currently in custody at Johannesburg Prison, popularly known as Sun City, while the court awaits the results of 11 post-mortems and 30 J88 reports.

The J88 report is an important record of any medical evidence that might be required to secure a conviction.

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