Sithembiso Mdlalose charged with 76 murders after the horrifying fire in Johannesburg

Thursday, January 25, 2024
 – 30-year-old Sithembiso Mdlalose has found himself at the center of a horrifying crime that claimed the lives of 76 people. Sithembiso, who admitted to setting fire to a crowded illegally-occupied housing block to cover up a death, was charged Thursday with arson and the murders of 76 people.

The suspect was denied bail and remanded in custody pending further investigations. His lawyer said Mdlalose would decide later whether or not to plead innocent or guilty.

A fire ripped through an abandoned building in downtown Johannesburg that was housing dozens of families in appalling conditions. The final death toll, according to health officials, was 77, including 12 children. Infants were thrown from upper-storey windows and many adult victims were found dead and incinerated, trapped against a security fence.

It was one of the worst urban fires in recent years anywhere in the world, and was dubbed a wake-up call in South Africa, focusing concern on a housing safety crisis in the country’s run-down inner cities.

This week, a man reportedly presented himself before a commission of inquiry into the tragedy and confessed to causing the fire.

The suspect, a drug user with alleged ties to a crime lord operating in the building, said that he had set a fire to cover his tracks after strangling a man during a bungled gangland punishment beating, according to an activist observing the inquiry.

In court, the suspect — a tall man in a khaki jacket and faded black jeans — stood with his head bowed and hands behind his back.

The case was postponed until February 1 for the state to verify Mdlalose’s address and South African identity number.

“Bail is refused for you for now and you have the onus to convince the bail court of a balance of probabilities that exceptional circumstances exist for you to be granted bail,” the magistrate Ulanda Labuschagne said.

Mdlalose could face life imprisonment if he is found guilty of premeditated murder.

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