Johannesburg Central Police Station
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|Johannesburg Central Police Station|
|Location||1 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Harris Fels Jankes and Nussbaum|
John Vorster Square was officially opened on the 23 August 1968 by John Vorster, the then current prime minister of the Republic of South Africa. It was a 10 storey, blue coloured cement building. Floors nine and ten were occupied by the police Security Branch while the detainees cells were on the lower floors of the building. During the apartheid era, the police station in downtown Johannesburg was a notorious site of interrogation, torture and abuse by the South African Security Police of apartheid resistance fighters. During September 1997, John Vorster Square was renamed Johannesburg Central Police Station and with that the removal of the bust of John Vorster.
John Vorster Square was also used as a detention centre mostly for political activists; those sent into "detention" were not allowed to have any contact with family members, lawyers or any outside help; they were cut off from the world. Detention could last for a few hours to a few months, depending on the police.
Between 1963 and 1990, at least 73 political activists are known to have died in detention in apartheid South Africa. Between 1970 and 1990, eight political activists are known to have died during or as a result of their detention in John Vorster Square.
The first detainee to die in John Vorster Square was Ahmed Timol, a 30 year old teacher and political activist and an underground member of the South African Communist Party and Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. On 27 October 1971, Ahmed Timol plunged to his death from the 10th floor five days after his arrest. The police claimed that he had committed suicide and an official inquest into his death in 1972 backed up this claim, despite evidence that he had been subjected to severe torture before his death.
A subsequent inquest into the death of Ahmed Timol in 2017, overturned the ruling of the 1971 inquest, and found that Timol had indeed been murdered by the security police
The second detainee to die in John Vorster Square was Wellington Tshazibane. On 11 December 1976 he was found hanging dead in his cell. He had been arrested four days earlier for alleged complicity in an explosion at the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg. “An official inquest, much like the previous inquest into Timol's death, exonerated the police of any wrongdoing.”
Elmon Malele was arrested on 10 January 1977 and died 10 days later of a brain haemorrhage at a nursing home in Johannesburg where he had been taken after he had allegedly lost his balance after standing for six hours (a standard torture technique) and hitting his head on the corner of a table. An official inquest found that his death was due to natural causes.
Less than a month later, on 15 February 1977, Matthews Mabelane plunged to his death from the 10th floor after having been detained. The police claimed that he had climbed out of the window onto a ledge in an attempt to escape and had slipped and fallen to his death. An inquest in April 1977 found the cause of death to be “Accidental.”
Having been arrested in November 1981, Neil Aggett was found hanging dead in his cell 70 days later on 5 February 1982. He was one of many trade union organisers detained during that period whom the apartheid regime regarded as a threat. Although a high profile court case showed how Aggett’s 80-hour interrogation on the weekend before his death had led to his emotional collapse, the security police were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ernest Dipale was detained at the same time as Aggett in November 1981 and was released three-and-a half months later. He had made a statement to a magistrate complaining of assault and torture by electric shock but nothing came of his complaints. He was detained again on 5 August 1982 and held at John Vorster Square. Three days later he was found hanging dead in his cell. Dipale was only 21 at the time of his death. An inquest in June 1983 found no-one criminally liable for his death.
On 5 June 1988, after being subject to repeated electric shocks, Stanza Bopape died of a heart attack. Concerned that another death in detention would cause an outcry, they claimed that he had escaped from custody. "During the 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, however, the police admitted that he had died in detention, and that his body had been dumped into the Nkomati River on the border with Mozambique. Stanza Bopape's body has never been found."
The last detainee to die in John Vorster Square was 20-year old Clayton Sithole who was found hanging dead in his cell on 30 January 1990, only 11 days before Nelson Mandela was released from jail. “His death was ruled a suicide.”
Chris van Wyk wrote a protest poem called "In Detention" that is based on the excuses the police gave the political activists when they died due to torture and severe beatings.
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- "Newtown Surrounds". Newtown Heritage Trail. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Anonymous (2011-03-31). "List of deaths in detention". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2017-07-14.
- "Detention without trial in John Vorster Square - Google Arts & Culture". Google Cultural Institute. Retrieved 2017-07-14.
- "SAHA / Sunday Times Heritage Project - Memorials". sthp.saha.org.za. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
- kedibone (2013-05-31). "An inquest into the death of Ernest Dipale finds no-one criminally liable for his death". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
- tinashe (2012-01-27). "Clayton Sithole dies while detained at John Vorster Square, Johannesburg, allegedly by his own hand". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2017-07-15.