South African man confesses to Arson in fatal blaze that claimed 76 lives

By Esther Muhozi
On 25 January 2024 at 11:45

A man in South Africa has been apprehended by the police after admitting to causing a fire resulting in the death of 76 individuals last year. He claimed to have started the blaze while attempting to dispose of the body of a man he had strangled.

This man has been apprehended by the police for asserting responsibility for a fire that claimed the lives of 76 individuals last year. His startling admission occurred during his testimony at an inquiry investigating the causes of the catastrophic blaze in August at a Johannesburg apartment building, one of the nation’s worst disasters.

The unidentified man disclosed that he started the fire while attempting to dispose of the body of a man he had allegedly strangled and beaten to death on the night of the incident. Reportedly, he doused the victim’s body in gasoline and set it ablaze with a match, following instructions from a drug dealer residing in the building.

The police later confirmed the arrest of a 29-year-old man who had confessed to his involvement in the fire during the inquiry. The individual, facing charges of 76 counts of murder, 120 counts of attempted murder, and arson, was not named by the authorities.

The inquiry, established to probe the fire’s potential causes, granted the man anonymity after his testimony, with legal assurances that it could not be used against him in criminal proceedings.

Referred to as "Mr X" by South African media, the man claimed responsibility for igniting the fire that swept through a dilapidated five-story building, causing numerous casualties, including at least 12 children, and leaving over 80 people injured.

The incident drew global attention to Johannesburg’s persisting issue of "hijacked buildings," taken over by squatters and neglected by authorities. The building in question, owned by the city but under the control of illegal landlords, housed hundreds of impoverished individuals, many of whom were suspected illegal immigrants.

Mr X also testified that the building was a hub of criminal activity, primarily orchestrated by drug dealers. Emergency services officials highlighted the perilous conditions during the fire, emphasizing that most fire escapes were locked or chained shut, exacerbating the tragedy.

Witnesses recounted desperate attempts to escape, including jumping from windows several floors high. The building’s occupants, predominantly immigrants, faced a myriad of challenges, from broken limbs to back injuries.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa initiated the inquiry, which commenced in October, beginning with testimony from emergency services personnel who responded to the early morning blaze on August 31. The acting chief of emergency services in Johannesburg labeled the building a "ticking time bomb," citing overcrowding, makeshift wooden structures, and the absence of firefighting equipment as contributing factors to the disaster.