Marshalltown fire survivor saw a resident engulfed in flames

One of the survivors of the Marshalltown building fire said he saw a resident of the building screaming while his body was on fire.

On Thursday, Tanzanian national Peter Mbwambo testified at the judicial commission of inquiry into the fire incident. He said on the night of the deadly fire he heard people shouting while they were trapped in their rooms.

The August 31, 2023, a fire at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, claimed 77 lives. A total of 86 people were injured.

Testified from undisclosed location

Mbwambo, who was testifying in Swahili with an interpreter, spoke virtually from an undisclosed location.

Mbwambo said he came to South Africa in March 2017 and started living in the Maboneng precinct in the Joburg CBD.

He said he moved to the Usindiso Building in 2019 because the rental “was low”.

Engulfed by fire

Mbwambo said on the night of the fire, he was woken up by people shouting “fire, fire, fire”.

“When I woke up, I tried to break my room door. The door was locked because when my wife left to go buy bread, she locked the door.

“As soon as I broke the door, I saw a person who was engulfed by fire. That shocked me. I went back to my room and took a small bag that had clothes inside. I was afraid that the person [on fire] would come to me and hold me or hug me. And I would also be on fire. When I heard how he was crying, I thought he was Malawian. I do not know if he died,” he said.

“I managed to get out of the building through the back. There was a lot of smoke inside the building. Before I came out, I could see fire, people exiting, and people jumping out of the building. [People were screaming] ‘We are dying; please open for us’,” said Mbwambo.

Lost possessions

Mbwambo said he lost his passport, clothes, and money in the blaze. He lived with his wife in a room at the Usindiso Building.

He said when the fire started, his wife was still outside buying bread.

“When she [the wife] came back, she thought I was still inside and knocked on our room window. She saw someone burning thought the person who was burning was me, and started crying. I was outside and saw her. I then went to her, and I told her the person burning is not me,” said Mbwambo.

Probing the cause of the incident

The commission of inquiry resumes on Friday morning at 10am. More testimony is  expected from survivors of the fire.

Retired former Constitutional Court judge, Sisi Khampepe, chairs the commission. Another commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathida Mabena.

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 for the deaths, injuries, and homelessness of the victims of the incident.

Seventy-seven people, including 12 children, were killed in the fire, while 86 other people were injured.

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