Planning Hell

As John Vorster Square was being planned, the apartheid security police, which would come to occupy the ninth and tenth floors of the building, argued successfully that these floors would need unique features. Read through the correspondence to find out what these unique features were, and have a look at a floorplan of the ninth floor.

View an image of the letter to the Quartermaster, dated June 17, 1965.

View an image of the floorplan of the infamous ninth floor.

Transcript of letter from Divisional Headquarters to the Quartermaster, Pretoria, dated June 17, 1965


SAP/J. 10A DATED 17.6.65

1. The security measures contained in the proposals in paragraphs 1, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 are agreed to, as are the proposals in paragraphs 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 and 2.4 of the minute dated 16.6.65 from the Secretary of Public Works.

2. Additional security measures now asked for are >

(a) Security grills are also to be provided at all points of entry from the 8th to the 9th floors;

(b) A cubicle measuring 10' x 6' with bulletproof glassfront and door and facing the lifts on the 10th floor must be provided at the expense of that amount of floor space of the proposed general office. This office to have sight into both lifts;

(c) The two security lifts to have compulsory stops at the 9th floor and to be operated manually and remotely from there to the 10th, 11th and 12th floors by the security officer in the cubicle mentioned in 2(b) above. (This will ensure that everybody including maintenance personnel who proceed beyond the 8th floor are scrutinized by the security officer in the cubicle);

(d) The door in the passage leading to the offices of the security police on the 9th floor is to be operated manually and remotely by the security officer in the cubicle. This will ensure that no person enters or leaves the floor without scrutiny. A bell system from inside the door to the cubicle to be supplied to notify the cubicle officer when to open the door to allow exit. (The system of remote control to be so devised as to be discontinued for any specific time at the whim of the Officer in Charge, Security Branch.)

- Memo to "Quartermaster", SAP/J. 10a, June 17 1965, South African Police Archives


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