Usindiso building fire: Arson-accused admits to starting fire, lawyer says ‘his life at risk’
The man been charged with 76 counts of premeditated murder, 86 counts of attempted murder and one of arson.
The fire at the Usindiso building in the Johannesburg CBD has been described as one of the worst tragedies to have hit Gauteng’s economic hub. Picture: Michel Bega/The Citizen
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) says it is working on corroborating evidence from the 31-year-old man who confessed to being responsible for the deadly Usindiso building fire in Marshalltown in the Johannesburg CBD, which claimed the lives of 76 people.
Sthembiso Lawrence Mdlalose made his first appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, where the case was postponed.
Mdlalose provided explosive testimony this week during the Commission of Inquiry into last year’s fatal fire at the Usindiso building.
During an in-camera sitting, Mdlalose told the panel of commissioners led by Justice Sisi Khampepe that he was high on crystal meth. He claimed the fire flared up when he allegedly murdered a person and set the body alight in an attempt to cover up the crime on the night of the deadly blaze.
Mdlalose has been charged with 76 counts of premeditated murder, 86 counts of attempted murder and one of arson.
In court, Mdlalose officially confessed before the magistrate that he had started the fire at the building in the Joburg CBD.
Both the NPA’s Phindi Mjonondwane and Mdlalose’s lawyer, Dumisani Mabunda, confirmed that he had confessed freely and voluntarily
Mjonondwane said while the prosecution has Mdlalose’s confession to starting the fire, they will also be relying on other evidence in the matter.
“As the prosecution, we can’t rely on the evidence that was presented at the commission, so the state is currently busy with its own investigations. But with what we have at our disposal, we were able to place the matter before the court.
“We cannot confirm whether the accused before court is a first-time offender, it’s still the early stages of the case, investigations are ongoing and among those outstanding investigations is the profiling of the accused before court,” Mjonondwane said.
Life at risk
Speaking to journalists outside the court, Mabunda said he does not have instructions on whether Mdlalose will plead guilty or not for the Usindiso building fire.
“This matter is fairly new, its still needs to be investigated and it can take a long time, it can take over a year to investigate this particular case. There is a lot of people involved who are alleged to have passed on as a result of this incident.”
Mabunda mentioned concerns surrounding Mdlalose’s safety.
“A lot of people died here and under normal circumstances family members are aggrieved, there are people who are not happy and as she mentions now there is a drug lord and all of that. So, therefore his safety is very important, he’s at risk basically.|
The case has been postponed to 02 February 2024, for profiling of the accused in preparation for the formal bail hearing.