Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

A 29-year-old drug user in Johannesburg has admitted to deliberately starting a fire in a crowded housing block to conceal a murder, resulting in a blaze that claimed the lives of 77 people, according to AFP reports on Wednesday.

The South African suspect voluntarily came forward on Tuesday to confess to authorities conducting an inquiry into the tragic incident that occurred in August of the previous year. Police have detained the individual, who disclosed that the fire was initiated to cover up a murder during a botched gangland beating.

In August, a devastating fire engulfed a five-story building in central Johannesburg, which had been unlawfully repurposed for housing. The inferno led to the death of 77 people, including 12 children, marking one of the deadliest urban fires globally in recent years. The catastrophe reignited discussions about housing conditions in South Africa’s dilapidated inner cities.

Initial suspicions of arson were confirmed when the confessed arsonist, burdened by guilt, revealed the intricate details of the incident. The suspect, described as a drug user, admitted to befriending a drug dealer within the building and participating in violent activities orchestrated by a gang boss. The suspect’s role included assisting in administering beatings in a room known as the “slaghuis” or “butchery,” where victims were restrained and assaulted.

On the day of the fire, the suspect discovered that the murder victim was someone known to him. Fearing identification and high on drugs, the individual strangled the victim, purchased fuel from a nearby petrol station, doused the body, and set it on fire. As the suspect watched the building burn, the magnitude of the incident became apparent, leading to the decision to confess during the inquiry.

Andy Chinnah, a human rights activist with Amnesty International present at the inquiry, conveyed the suspect’s narrative, emphasizing the unintended scale of the tragedy. The suspect is now facing charges of arson, 77 counts of murder, and 120 counts of attempted murder.

Following the fire, concerns were raised about illegal occupations of abandoned buildings in Johannesburg, reflecting broader issues in urban housing. President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to the incident as a “wake-up call,” prompting a renewed debate on housing conditions and the challenges of addressing the widespread problem of illegal housing in the city’s rundown areas.

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