Police arrest man after confessing to starting deadly building fire

The man who confessed to starting the Marshalltown fire at the Usindiso Building that claimed the lives of 77 people will appear in court on Thursday.

This comes after the police nabbed the 29-year-old man after he testified at the commission of inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths at the Usindiso Building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg.

On Tuesday, the man made the shocking revelation about starting the fire when he gave oral evidence in camera.

The commission’s hearings are taking place at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, Joburg.

Gauteng police spokesperson Col Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi said the man will appear before the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Thursday and will face charges of arson, 76 counts of murder, and 120 counts of attempted murder.

“The 29-year-old man was arrested [on Tuesday] after he confessed at the commission of inquiry for being involved in starting the tragic fire.

He is expected to appear before a Johannesburg court soon on charges of arson, 76 counts of murder, and 120 counts of attempted murder,” said Nevhuhulwi.

Witness identity concealed

When the commission’s hearings started on Tuesday morning, evidence leader Advocate Ishmael Semenya SC asked to call the witness whose identity he asked to be concealed because his life would be in peril if his identity was publicised.

In response, the commission chairperson, retired former Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe, ordered that the hearing be held in camera and that members of the media and the different legal teams present be permitted to be part of the in-camera hearing.

Khampepe ordered that no one may directly or indirectly disclose the identity of the witness who is to give evidence in camera.

Meanwhile, the commission will resume its hearings on Thursday at 12.30 p.m., with its members expected to conduct an inspection at the site of the fire.

Commissioner resigns

The other commissioner is Vuyelwa Mathilda Mabena. Advocate Thulani Makhubela resigned from the commission more than a month ago.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi appointed Khampepe, Mabena, and Makhubela to the commission in September 2023.

Lesufi’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, said the premier has not yet decided whether to appoint a new commissioner to replace Makhubela. “The premier is still applying his mind and has not taken a decision yet,” said Pamla.

Makhubela was recused after an application was brought to the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) in December.

Former residents of the Usindiso Building, who are the first respondents in the case, supported the application.

Seri and the former residents argued that Makhubela should recuse himself based on his social media posts that they deem xenophobic.

South Africans and foreigners are among the former occupants of the building, which caught fire on August 31.

While delivering judgement, Khampepe said Makhubela will not be “impartial” in analysing evidence submitted to the commission. 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 those who survived the fire. Seventy-seven people, including 12 children, were killed in the fire, while 88 other people were injured.

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