published: 20 April 2020
John Vorster Square in central Johannesburg is a building as cold and formidable as the man it was named after: South Africa’s prime minister from 1966 to 1978.
Created as a detention centre for mainly political prisoners, the forbidding grey-and-blue, 10-storey cement building, now known as the Johannesburg Central Police Station, was described in 1971 as the “last word in security” by the liberal South African newspaper, the Rand Daily Mail.
In his book, Timol: A Quest for Justice, Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, wrote of the “paranoia of its turnstiles clamping together like metal teeth”.
To Cajee, whose uncle died at John Vorster Square, it was “the ultimate symbol of the bureaucratisation of fear and horror under apartheid”.
Former Minister of Health and of Public Enterprises Barbara Hogan, who – as the first South African woman to be found guilty of high treason – was detained there, described it as an “iconic institution” that symbolised “the reign of the mad forces”.