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Man charged with 76 counts of murder after deadly South African building fire

Medics outside the building in downtown Johannesburg where a deadly fire claimed 76 lives (AP Photo/Jerome Delay/File)
Medics outside the building in downtown Johannesburg where a deadly fire claimed 76 lives (AP Photo/Jerome Delay/File)

A man was charged with 76 counts of murder and 86 counts of attempted murder on Thursday for allegedly causing a deadly fire at an apartment building in South Africa that was one of the country’s worst disasters.

The suspect was also charged with arson and was ordered to be kept in police custody until a bail hearing next month.

He faces a possible sentence of life in prison. South Africa has no death penalty.

Prosecutors said the suspect, Sithembiso Lawrence Mdlalose, made a written confession.

Mdlalose was arrested on Tuesday after making a startling claim at a separate inquiry that he was responsible for the fire at a downtown Johannesburg apartment complex in August 2023 that killed 76 people and injured dozens of others.

He told the inquiry that he set the fire while trying to hide the body of a man he had killed in the basement of the building.

He said he had strangled the man and then poured gasoline over his body and set it alight.

The fire ripped through the five-storey building in the predawn hours of August 31.

Prosecutors said Mdlalose’s apparent confession at the inquiry could not be used in his trial because the ongoing inquiry is not a criminal proceeding.

They said he had since made a written confession in front of a judge.