Heritage

STEADFAST:  Kagiso Pat Mautloa’s artwork is called "Simakade" (the Zulu for "forever standing"), and features a huge rock bound in wire and mounted on a concrete plinth. The artwork symbolises resilience  PICTURE: CRAIG MATTHEWS, DOXA © SAHA   

John Vorster Square 

1971 — 1990 
Between October 27, 1971 and January 30, 1990, seven people died here while being held indefinitely under apartheid’s detention laws. An eighth man died in hospital a week after being interrogated by the security branch on the infamous tenth floor. The lift went only to the ninth floor. Political prisoners were walked up a final flight of stairs to reach the tenth. An undetermined number of detainees were tortured. The station was named after Prime Minister BJ Vorster. In September 1997, John Vorster Square was renamed and transformed into Johannesburg Central Police Station. The bronze bust of Vorster was removed to the police museum.

Downtown at Death Central

 

HORROR ON THE HORIZON 

Brave the death in detention archive 
In our archive, you can peruse planning documents for the unique design of John Vorster Square, developed to include a hyper-secure area on the ninth and tenth floors for use by the security police. Relive the horrors of detention as recounted by detainees who survived the ordeal. 

KAGISO PAT MAUTLOA
IN A BRUSHSTROKE
» Who is Kagiso Pat Mautloa?
Working in downtown Johannesburg, Kagiso Pat Mautloa explores the relationship of the city to the people who inhabit it

» The light bulb moment: The artist’s concept
Because the memorial to death in detention at John Vorster Square tells such a sensitive story, it took almost two years to reach agreement on the concept


Ahmed Timol and his mother
PICTURE: © IMTIAZ CAJEE, WITS UNIVERSITY
» Going to Goch Street
The first death at John Vorster Square occurred in October 1971, the last in 1990, 12 days before Nelson Mandela’s release from jail

» Memorial to deaths in detention
A public memorial that pays homage to eight detainees who died at the former John Vorster Square was installed as part of the Heritage Project

» Symbol of past horrors holds hope for the future
Every time I pass the plain, blue-framed bulk of Johannesburg Central I am reminded of Chris van Wyk’s dark satire on death in detention, writes Paul Ash

» 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
» Map 
Get quick directions to the memorial in downtown Johannesburg
» Panorama 
A 360º view of the memorial and the area where it is located
» Video Documentary 
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
» Video Documentary 
Watch interviews with former detainees and an ex-security policeman in this extract from an interactive DVD on John Vorster Square