The commission of inquiry into the Marshalltown fire heard that victims of the fire sheltering at the Hofland Community Centre had been abandoned by the government and relied on NGOs for food.
A witness and former resident of the Usindiso building, originally from Tanzania, told the chairperson of the commission, Justice Sisi Khampepe, that at times they would run out of food and had to fend for themselves.
He said the centre had one kitchen and four toilets to accommodate more than 200 people who had been displaced by the Marshalltown fire. The blaze claimed 76 lives in August 2023.
“There was only one kitchen and at least four toilets for all of us to use at Hofland Community Centre. I don’t think there were enough toilets for everyone as we had to take turns to use them ... there was not much for us to do there and conditions were not that good, either,” he said.
The witness added that he could not look for work as he did not have a permit and no one to help him with money to start a business, after having lost more than R5 000 in the fire.
Regarding the night of the fire, the former resident, speaking through an interpreter, said that he witnessed people jumping from building balconies and tried to phone the fire department while he was on the side of the street.
“We were confused and it took us time to manage to call for help, but once we did, the firefighters arrived in less than 20 minutes. I lost everything as I was among the last to leave the building. I lost my passport and other belongings.
“We realised that the fire could not have been a candle as it would have been easy to put out,” he said.
In the meantime, the 29-year-old Sthembiso Mdlalose, allegedly responsible for the Usindiso Building fire, made his second court appearance on Monday while the inquiry into the fire heard more evidence.
Mdlalose, who already has given testimony at the inquiry, once again confessed to having started the fire to conceal the body of a person he had beaten and strangled while he was on drugs.
Mdlalose faces 76 counts of murder, 86 counts of attempted murder, as well as arson charges.
The matter was postponed to today owing to the verification of Mdlalose’s documents and citizenship status.
The inquiry continues.