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South African suspect in 76 arson deaths drops bail bid

By AFP - Feb 01,2024 - Last updated at Feb 01,2024

JOHANNESBURG — A South African man charged with 76 murders after he confessed to triggering a fire in an illegally-occupied housing block dropped his bid for bail on Thursday.

At a court hearing in Johannesburg, magistrate Ulanda Labuschagne postponed 30-year-old Sithembiso Mdlalose’s case until March 6 while investigators continue their investigation.

In August last year, a fire ripped through an abandoned building in downtown Johannesburg that was housing dozens of families in appalling conditions, killing more than 70 people.

Infants were thrown from upper-storey windows and many adult victims were found dead and incinerated, trapped against a security fence that had failed to keep them out.

The case was seen as a wake-up call in South Africa, focusing concern on a housing safety crisis in the country’s run-down inner cities.

Last month, the suspect came forward and confessed to having set a fire in the building to cover up a gangland murder. He has been charged with arson, 76 murders and 86 counts of attempted murder.

When Mdlalose appeared in court on Thursday, the state prosecutor asked for more time, as police investigators are still waiting for some documents including 11 autopsy reports.

The state opposed bail for the suspect, but defence attorney Dumisani Mubanda said his client would drop that request and the magistrate remanded him in custody until the next hearing.

National Prosecuting Authorities spokeswoman, Phindi Mjonondwane, said the state was waiting to hear from the defence as to whether the suspect would make a proposal to negotiate a sentence.

“We will be guided by the defence if they wish to enter into negotiations with the state,” she said. “If we reject their proposal, then we will move to the trial stage.”

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