Not so straight to the top.

Obsessed with security, police made sure that gaining access to the ninth and tenth floors would be extremely difficult. One way in which they achieved this was to have dedicated lifts used only for access to these floors, each developed with their own failsafe systems. This was the unfortunate route of all those detained and interrogated on the ninth and tenth floors. The memorandum transcribed below outlines exactly how this system operated.

View images of the memorandum from the secretary of public works to the Quartermaster: Page 1| Page 2


4079/3 refers.

1. For your perusal and report please.

2. I have to confirm that further discussions between Brigadier Steyn and Mr. Johnson have been arranged for 11.30 am. On 21.6.1965



1. With reference to the meeting on 9th June 1965, at which Brigadier Steyn, Col. Jordaan and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kuhles were present, I have to confirm the following: -

1. Two Lifts in Block 1 (North Block)

1.1 These two lifts are both to be security lifts, one for Whites and one for non-Whites, both to serve only the basement, ninth and tenth floors.

1.1.1 Arising out of this, the following arrangements must be were asked for by Brigadier Steyn, subject to confirmation by Col Venter: -

1.1.2 All persons using these two lifts must be "screened" by a member of the police who will be situated in the waiting room adjacent to the lift marked "Security Lift" in the basement.

1.1.3 The roller shutter opposite the lift marked "non-European Lift" is to be normally locked and opened only when it is necessary for the transport of goods. The key is to be kept by the policeman in the waiting room.

1.1.4 An access door is required between the waiting room and the security lift marked "non-European Lift."

1.2 It was proposed that the following arrangements would be incorporated into the lift specification: -

Emergency exit doors to these lifts are to be provided to all floors not served, including the 11th and 12th floors. These emergency exit doors are to be fitted with "Yale" type locks on the outside with the key available in the waiting room in the basement. On the 12th and 12th floor additional locks are to be provided inside for the lift service man or P.W.D. officials with the key available in the waiting room.

All persons using these two lifts must be "screened" by a member of the police who will be situated in the waiting room adjacent to the lift marked "Security Lift" in the basement

2. Main Lifts: (3 Passenger for Whites, 1 Passenger/Goods for non-Whites)

2.2 Floors Served: Basement to the 12th excluding 9th and 10th where no entrance will be provided (Entrances bricked up). Automatic doors Basement to 8th only. On the 11th and 12th floors the landing doors will have locks inside similar to the security lifts to enable the life service man or P.W.D. official to open the doors manually.

2.3 Home Landing: only one of the tree Main Passenger Lifts is to have its home landing on the Ground Floor.

2.4 "Panelyte or Formica" finish is recommended for all the lift cars inside

3. The following points were not discussed but are necessary for security reasons: -

3.1 Security Lifts: - the access door to the stair on the 11th floor (see drawing /29) will be kept locked by the Security Branch to prevent access to the 10th floor from above.

3.2 Main Lifts : - Security grills are to be provided on the 10th floor to prevent access by the Main Stairs from the 11th floor.


back to the Death in Detention memorial page

"He slipped on the ninth floor while washing ... He fell from a piece of soap while slipping."
Poet Chris van Wyk on Death in Detention
Ahmed Timol
Picture: © Imtiaz Cajee, Wits University


The skewed nature of evidence under apartheid

In this lesson plan, learners will be given the opportunity to examine some of the evidence provided during inquests into the deaths of detainees. They will be asked to interrogate its validity, and to identify gaps and contradictions.

Lesson plan (1.16MB)
You′ll need the Adobe Acrobat PDF reader to view these lesson plans. Download it here.
Archive Photo Gallery
A collection of images of the building and the people detained at John Vorster Square.
Audio Documentary
Listen to former detainees at John Vorster Square speak about their experiences at the hands of the apartheid security police.
A 360º view of the memorial erected at Johannesburg Central Police Station.
Remembering detention at John Vorster Square 1
An extract from an interactive DVD on John Vorster Square: listen to former detainee Barbara Hogan speak about the horror of being locked up in apartheid’s most notorious police station
Remembering detention at John Vorster Square 2
Watch interviews with former detainees and an ex-security policeman in this extract from an interactive DVD on John Vorster Square