A resident of the Marshalltown building that was gutted by fire was shot dead moments before the fire started.
This was revealed on Friday by Sithowakhe Zungu who was giving his testimony during the judicial commission of inquiry into the fire incident.
The August 31, 2023 fire broke out at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, and claimed 77 lives. A total of 86 people were injured.
Oral testimony by survivors
On Friday, the commission of inquiry resumed with more oral testimony from the survivors of the fire. The proceedings are taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg. Retired former Constitutional Court judge, Sisi Khampepe, chairs the commission. Another commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena.
Zungu is represented by Kgaogelo Maponya, who is on brief by Norton Rose Fulbright law firm. Maponya is leading the evidence of witnesses form the Johannesburg Fire Victims Support Group.
During the proceedings, Zungu said there was a prevalence of crime in the Usindiso Building. He said he started living in the building in 2022.
Prevalence of violent crime in the building
“There was a lot of crime in the building and there were gangs that were selling drugs. Just before the fire started, there was a person who was shot and killed inside the building. Sometimes, police would come and arrest people. When I ask around on why those people are arrested, I would be told that those people were arrested because they are selling drugs,” said Zungu.
It is not clear if the shooting death was connected to the subsequent deadly fire incident.
Fire trucks with no water
Earlier, the commission heard testimonies from Tanzanian national Omari Hanya, Qinisile Dladla, and Zoliwe Peje.
They are all represented by Maponya.
The witnesses testified about how the City of Johannesburg emergency management services (EMS) firefighters came with trucks that had no water to the fire scene.
They said when the EMS arrived at the scene of the fire, they had to connect their equipment to the building’s water supply system. The same building that was engulfed with the raging fire.
Inquiry resumes Monday
The inquiry resumes on Monday at 10am, with more testimony expected from the survivors of the fire.
The inquiry seeks to determine the cause of the fire and the prevalence of hijacked buildings in the Johannesburg CBD.
It is expected to make a ruling and recommendations on who should shoulder the blame. This pertains to the deaths, injuries, and homelessness of the victims of the incident.
Arson suspect case moved to March 6
Meanwhile, the case against Sthembiso Lawrence Mdlalose has been postponed to March 6 for further investigations. Mdlalose was arrested after claiming that he started the Marshalltown building fire.
Last month, the 31-year-old Mdlalose confessed before Khampepe, stating that he was the man who started the deadly fire.
Mdlalose is facing one charge of arson, 76 counts of murder, and 86 counts of attempted murder.
Mdlalose’s case has been moved for further investigations, as well as for 11 post-mortems and 30 outstanding J88 reports. A J88 report is a key document recording medical evidence that may be needed to obtain a conviction.
During his court appearance on Thursday, Mdlalose abandoned his bail application, and did not cite reasons for it.
Sunday World understands that Mdlalose is expected to point out the scene, accompanied by police and an investigating officer.
He is kept in a private cell at Johannesburg Prison, popularly known as Sun City. This is for safety reasons, after his lawyer, Dumisani Mabundla, asked police to ensure his safety.