A man has been arrested after confessing that he started a fire in South Africa that killed 76 people – while trying to get rid of a body.
The 29-year-old made the shock confession during a public inquiry into the cause of the fire at a five-storey building in Johannesburg in August last year, police say.
The man reportedly said he had strangled someone to death in the basement of the block of flats, before setting fire to his body, according to South African media reports of the testimony.
He said that he was a drug user and was told to kill the man by a drug dealer who lived in the building.
Police later said the man – who was not named – has been arrested in connection with the fire and is facing 76 counts of murder, 120 counts of attempted murder and arson.
The confession came as a complete surprise, as the inquiry was not a criminal proceeding, but aimed to find out what safety failures might have resulted in the deaths of so many.
The fire ripped through the dilapidated building, killing dozens of people, including at least 12 children. More than 80 people were injured in the blaze.
Witnesses said at the time they saw people throwing babies from the burning building in an attempt to save them – and at least one man jumped to his death.
Building was ‘ticking time bomb’
The tragedy highlighted Johannesburg’s long-running problem with buildings that have become rundown and abandoned by authorities.
The building that burned down had been taken over by illegal landlords, who were renting out space to hundreds of people desperate for somewhere to live.
Many of the building’s occupants were immigrants suspected of being in South Africa illegally.
Last year, Johannesburg’s acting chief of emergency services testified at the inquiry that the building was a “ticking time bomb,” because it was crowded with people living in wooden structures, while fire hoses and fire extinguishers had all been removed.
The man is expected to appear in court soon, but police did not give a specific date.