Armed gang ruled building where 76 people burnt to death 

By Everson Luhanga

Residents of the Usindiso building in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, that burnt down in September, killing 76 people, were using izinyokanyoka (illegal connections).

On Tuesday, a City Power official and a ward councillor for the area told the reconvened commission of inquiry into the tragedy how dangerous the building was.

Arsenio Cossa, City Power’s general manager, told the commission that the utility’s officials were warned that they would be shot or their cars damaged if they tried to disconnect the building’s electricity.

“Usindiso owed R3-million which was billed to them. In September 2021, City Power sent the bill to the building owners to settle the debt or face disconnection. But the entity didn’t pay,” Cossa said.

He said the debt rose to R4.4-million by August 2022.

On 22 November 2022, they disconnected the power. 

During cross-examination by advocate Ishmael Semenya, Cossa admitted that the threats directed at them by the occupants of the building were not reported to the SAPS. 

Mngameli Mnyameni, the Ward 124 councillor, told the commission that former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba told him that the building was not suitable to live in. 

After Mashaba’s comments, the area of the building being used as a clinic for abused women and children was closed by the former MMC for Health, Dr Mpho Phalatse. 

In 2018, when the officials went to assess the building and tried to help the abused women they were chased away. 

Mnyameni said women in the building complained to him that they were scared of men who wanted to forcefully occupy the building.

The bodies of 18 out of the 76 people who died in the building in September are still awaiting identification in the mortuary at the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

Pictured above: Retired Constitutional Court Justice Sisi Khampepe presides over the commission of inquiry.

Image source: Everson Luhanga


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