Constitution Hill - the most important information
The Constitution Hill precinct is located at 11 Kotze Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg near the western end of the suburb of Hillbrow. Constitution Hill is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The museum section includes the Mandela Cell, where Nelson Mandela was housed when he was held here in prison.
History of the Constitution Hill
The hill was formerly the site of a fort that was later used as a prison. The Old Fort Prison complex is known as Number Four. The original prison was built to house white male prisoners in 1892. The Old Fort was built around this prison by Paul Kruger from 1896 to 1899 to protect the South African Republic from the threat of British invasion. The Old Fort prison was later extended to include "native" cells, called Section 4 and Section 5, and, in 1907, a women's section was added, the Women's Gaol. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Both political activists opposed apartheid and common criminals have been held at the prison. The site housed prisoners until 1983 when it was closed. The Old Fort was declared a National Monument in 1964 although it continued as a functioning prison until 1987, after which the buildings and the site as a whole suffered from neglect and vandalism. Constitution Hill opened its doors as a museum in 2004.
What to see in Constitution Hill?
Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa's journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort that bears testament to South Africa's turbulent past and, today, is home to the country's Constitutional Court, which endorses the rights of all citizens. A walk through the various sites at Constitution Hill is a walkthrough South Africa’s history from the pain of the past to the hope of a strong democratic future that is still under construction. While these sites witnessed so many abuses, they were also the place where many sacrificed their own freedom for the democratic rights now enshrined in our Constitution. There are several separated objects to see here:
- Constitutional Court: In 1995, the Constitutional Court justices began looking for a permanent location for the new Court. Most of the prison has been demolished to make way for the new court, but the stairwells have been kept and incorporated into the new building as a reminder of how South Africa has overcome the dark days of oppression.
- The Old Fort prison buildings were built from 1896 to 1899. They were created by the Boers for the specific purpose of holding captive British invaders.
- Number Four also called ''Native Prison'' is the section of the Old Fort complex that was reserved for black men. Number Four was once home to prisoners such as Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Sobukwe, and the students of the 1976 Soweto uprising.
- The Constitution Hills Women Gaol was built in 1909, as a Victorian-style building, with separate sections for whites and other races. The treatment meted out on prisoners here were large with regards to their racial background. The white prisoners were given better treatment as compared to other races who were crowded in their cells with bad and inadequate sanitary conditions.
- The museum section includes the Mandela Cell, where Nelson Mandela was housed when he was held here in prison.
Opening hours and tickets for Constitution Hill
- Opening hours: This museum is open every day during the week from 9 am to 5 pm. Sometimes during the holidays, working hours may be different.
- Tickets: Admission to museum areas costs 5 USD, for kids and students around 2 USD, and for pensioners around 3 USD (includes optional one-hour guided tour). Admission and a two-hour guided tour cost 7 USD, for kids and students around 5 USD.
How to get to Constitution Hill?
There are several easy ways to get to Constitution Hill:
- Constitution Hill is the starting point for the open-top hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing bus Red Route which makes stops at all the major museums in downtown Joburg such as Origins Centre, as well as the Gold Reef City theme park in south Joburg. Besides this, you can get to this site via Gautrain. Constitution Hill is a 15-minute walk from Park Station Gautrain station.
Constitution Hill trivia:
- Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned here in 1906. Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Albert Lutuli, and Robert Sobukwe are some of its famous prisoners. For this reason, it was also called ''The Robben Island of Johannesburg'' due to how infamous it became as a result of holding these political prisoners.
- Still, others were arrested for having sex across the color bar or for homosexual sex. Amongst the practices reported during detention, the humiliating "Tauza" dance, the beatings in the notorious Number Four prison for black men, the detention for months in dirty, overcrowded conditions in the Awaiting Trial Block, or being stripped of their underclothes and their dignity in the Women's Gaol.
- Outside the wooden doors of the court building, in the middle of a plaza and built into one of the stairwells of the old prison is the Flame of Democracy. The Flame was lit on December 10, 2011, when South Africa celebrated the 15th anniversary of the signing of the constitution.