The first place anyone and everyone should visit to learn about South Africa’s road to democracy is Constitution Hill, which – as it was a prison and military fort – bears testament to our country’s difficult past. Today, however, this location is home to our Constitutional Court, which serves to protect the rights of all citizens.
A Brief History On The Museums
The Old Fort
This museum was the first Johannesburg prison and a military fort. It was built in 1893 on instruction from former president Paul Kruger. Only political and common-law white males were incarcerated here. Nelson Mandela was the only black male prisoner to serve time at The Old Fort as he was regarded as too influential to be placed with black prisoners.
The Women’s Jail
The Women’s Jail was built in 1910. Here, women would be incarcerated for petty crimes ranging from illegally brewing beer to contravening pass laws. A woman being arrested with her children was hardly a surprise. Noteworthy political prisoners included Barbara Hogan, Fatima Meer, Albertina Sisulu and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Number Four is infamously known for birthing some of South Africa’s gangs still prevalent in the country today. It was built in 1902 to house black prisoners, and gross human rights violations were a daily occurrence. Noteworthy political prisoners included Robert Sobukwe, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Luthuli.
The Awaiting Trial Block
This was a prison built in 1928 for black prisoners awaiting trial, as the name suggests. In December 1956, 156 activists were arrested on charges of high treason. However, five years later when the trial ended, all the accused were acquitted.
The Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court was inaugurated at Constitution Hill on 21 March 2004, Human Rights Day. Former president Thabo Mbeki had this to say at the opening: “The court represents the conversion of the negative, hateful energy of colonialism, subjugation and oppression into a positive, hopeful energy for the present and the future; a celebration of the creative potential of our people that has given us an architectural jewel.”
Constitution Hill is a big site and, for the most part, pre-approved access is required. The simplest way to get the most out of exploring this location is by booking a tour on Webtickets. Here you can either book for a Highlights Tour, Full Tour, Night Tour, Art & Justice Tour, Time Travel Tour, Walk with Madiba, or Constitutional Court Tour.
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