Johannesburg Fort and Constitutional Hill, Braamfontein
The Constitution Hill Precinct in Braamfontein must be the place where the iniquities of our past have been turned into the hope for our future.
The Fort, built in 1892 by Paul Kruger, had always served as either a military base or a prison. The cruelty of the guards was legendary, especially if one realises that most the inmates were incarcerated for petty crimes, like not carrying the devilish pass book, or for breaking other colonial and apartheid legislation such as hut tax laws, beer brewing laws and the Group Areas act.
Some of our most famous political prisoners were incarcerated here. From Boer military leaders during the South African war (1899-1902), to the Indian passive resisters (including Mahatma Gandhi), to the white miners of the 1907, 1913, and the 1922 Rand Revolt. Not forgetting, ANC activists, including the 1952 Defiance campaign – the Treason Trialists of 1956 – including Nelson Mandela, and those imprisoned after various waves of resistance. Sharpeville in 1961, the 1976 uprising and the harsh clampdowns of the mid 1980s States of Emergency, and many others like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Fatima Meer.
The Isolation Cells for white women held some infamous criminals like Daisy De Melker, who poisoned several husbands and her son, and was the second woman to get a capital punishment in South Africa.
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. The entire site was injected with a new meaning and energy when it was chosen in the mid-1990s as the site for the new Constitutional Court.
Today, Constitution Hill, the seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court since February 2004, is home to one of the most celebrated constitutional democracies in the world and is one of the country’s most important heritage sites and visitor destinations.
The court houses a collection of about 200 artworks by eminent South Africa artists and a tour through the court gives a visitor a chance to experience a real court case from the visitor decks. Situated on a hill, one can enjoy the magnificent view over Johannesburg city and the surrounding suburbs, whilst pondering the history of our freedom.
A number of excellent exhibitions and guided tours have been designed as an interactive experience and a full calendar of public programs, temporary and permanent exhibitions bring the site to life.
Visiting hours: Monday to Friday 08h30 to 17h00: Saturday: 10h00 to 15h00: Sundays: Closed.
Directions: If you are travelling along Jan Smuts in the direction of the inner city, turn left into Empire Road, then right into Queen Street. At the next traffic light, turn right into Sam Hancock Street, where you will find the visitors’ parking area.
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