Former police officer testifies in Neil Aggett inquest

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For the first time since the inquest into the death of anti-apartheid activist Neil Aggett began this week, a former police officer at the former John Vorster Square police station has testified.

Joseph Nyampule has taken the High Court in Johannesburg through the activities that took place at the notorious police station during the apartheid years.

He says he was tasked with taking care of detainees at the station.

Nyampule says he was stationed at the Hillbrow police station as a student police constable. He told the court that he was then moved to the then John Vorster Square Police Station to take care of detainees.

Through an interpreter, he recalls when he was briefed for the first time by Captain Arthur Conrad, the head of investigations of political detainees.

“Captain Conrad informed me that now I was going to be at the security branch. He further informed me that in that security branch there are rules which are to be observed. He explained to me that they were working with political detainees who want to topple the government.”

Nyampule says his job was to take care of the detainees and ensure that they showered every morning. He was told not to talk to detainees about anything besides work.

“My duties at the cells was that I was going to take the political detainees to the showers before they could be booked up to be taken to either to 10th  floor or anywhere for further investigations.”

Security police claim Aggett hanged himself outside his cell. But the picture painted by Nyampule makes it highly improbable that Aggett would have opened his locked metal cell door to hang himself.

“Police in uniform used his key to lock and also I will use my padlock to lock. The wooden door will also be locked by the police in uniform. Then it is where I will proceed to the tenth floor. I would take the key to the tenth floor to Captain Makgoro and then he would hand them to Captain Conrad. And from there I did  not know what Captain Conrad did with those keys.”

Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, who was a detainee during the apartheid years, was also in court.

“There was a need and an opportunity to create a voice for people through the trade union movement. And of course, Neil found himself in the foot of a union which was fundamentally an import union. As activists, you needed to give that space to ordinary people to exercise their voice which had been tampered upon by the apartheid regime. But in whatever you do we all understood the enormous risks involved.”

The former security branch officer will continue with his testimony on Monday.

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