The South African Police Service (SAPS) have arrested a 29-year-old man on suspicion of 76 murders after telling a public inquiry he started last August’s deadly fire in a Johannesburg building.
The man confessed while giving evidence at the inquiry, police said. The Usindiso building in Marshalltown was ripped by fire last year killing 77 poor people and leaving hundreds charred with injuries.
The suspect also faces charges of arson and 120 counts of attempted murder.
A South African Police Service spokesperson said the suspect, who cannot be named will appear in court soon.
The man had confessed to “being involved in starting the tragic fire”. He gave evidence during a closed session of the inquiry.
The Usindiso building housed hundreds of people, some of the poorest people in South Africa.
The building was abandoned or neglected by its owners, which sometimes gets taken over by criminals who then sublet it to indigent people.
The City of Johannesburg owned the Usindiso building and on Monday, Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda said 188 “bad” buildings were being investigated, with 134 of them in the inner city.
Shortly after the fire, President Cyril Ramaphosa said it had been a “wake up call” for South Africa and the city of Johannesburg had to contain issues around housing deficits, maintenance and services in Johannesburg’s inner city.
South Africa faces a lingering housing crisis, with an estimated 15,000 people said to be homeless in Johannesburg. In some other shantytowns, poor people find sleeping spots around grave sites.