I was denied access to Neil Aggett’s cell – former Security Branch cop

Former Security Branch policeman, Joseph Nyampule, left, on the 10th floor where Neil Aggett and other detainees were interrogated, 21 January 2020, during a site visit to Johannesburg Central Police Station (formerly John Vorster Square). Picture: Nigel Sibanda

‘I could not assist [detainees being tortured] because I would have ended up in trouble or ended up being tortured like them,’ Joe Nyampule testified.

A former apartheid Security Branch police officer has testified that he was denied entry to the holding cell of Dr Neil Aggett at the notorious John Vorster Square, now known as Johannesburg Central police station.

Joe Nyampule testified in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday at the inquest into Aggett’s death.

It is alleged that Aggett committed suicide while in police custody on February 4 or February 5, 1982.

Nyampule said Aggett told him more than once that he was tired after being interrogated on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square by Security Branch officers.

He testified that while visiting the holding cells on the second floor, Aggett showed him papers he had been given to rewrite his statement.

“He told me that whenever he handed [in] his statements, they would be torn into pieces and he’d be asked to rewrite a new one. He asked me what to do because everything he wrote was what was requested by my white colleagues.

“I was shocked because he was white and they (Security Branch officers) were white too. I don’t remember him complaining about being tortured,” Nyampule said.

He claimed that he was instructed not to enter Aggett’s cell, and only two officers were allowed to enter and search the cell.

“We were later told that Aggett had committed suicide. They said Aggett hanged himself. We were never told what he used to hang himself and were never taken to be shown where he hanged himself.

“I only learnt about it recently that he allegedly used a scarf to hang himself from an investigating officer handling this inquest hearing. I was shocked because it was the first time I heard that he used a scarf when I was shown a photo of him hanging.

“It surprises me because the Security Branch never showed us how he hanged himself. They should have showed us because we were colleagues. No one was punished and if I was (wrong), I would have been punished as a person who worked at the holding cells,” he testified.

Nyampule continued that most detainees were stopped from seeing a medical doctor or magistrate especially after a detainee was injured or had bruises or visible marks of assault.

Some were electrocuted, had cigarette burns or had their handcuffs and leg irons tightened on their wrists and ankles. All of this took place on the 10th floor of John Vorster Square.

Doctors and magistrates would be told that detainees were booked out for a few days for further investigations.

“[Paul] Langa once informed me that he was going to be booked out for three weeks for further investigation and was going to stand on his feet day and night. And it happened.

“On his return, Langa’s feet were swollen, looking like those of an elephant. His legs were also swollen, and he looked tired. He was not brought back to his cell and they continued torturing him. White officers from the Security Branch exchanged shifts while he was standing in the exercise yard.

“He was denied an opportunity to be seen by a doctor or magistrate,” Nyampule said.

“I was told by Warrant Officer McPherson to go to the 10th floor to report that Umkhonto we Sizwe Veterans Association member Carl Niehaus wanted to commit suicide.”

He then told a Captain Makgoro, who conveyed the message to Arthur B Conrad, head of the unit.

“On my return, I saw Niehaus lying on a stretcher [being] taken to a hospital. I was surprised because there were phones on the second floor that McPherson could have used to call the 10th floor instead of sending me to run there. I thought that he was hiding something from me,” he said.

Nyampule claimed that he was concerned about the tortures.

“I could not assist them because I would have ended up in trouble or ended up being tortured like them. I was accused by Conrad of being too friendly with political detainees and was accused of communicating with them for a long time,” he said.

Nyampule said he then asked to be transferred to another post and he lessened his communication with detainees.

“There were intercom gadgets in each cell and everything I spoke with them was being recorded on the 10th floor,” he said.

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