Joburg stop of the month: Constitution Hill

26 January 2016

Visitors to Constitution Hill in one of the prison cells

What once was one of South Africa’s most oppressive places is now a celebration of democracy and freedom. Situated on a hill overlooking the city of Johannesburg, Constitutional Hill (stop 5) is home to a former prison complex as well as the country's highest court. It is also where our Green Tour and City Tour meet.

When looking at its history, there are a lot of similarities between Constitution Hill and Robben Island, one being that political prisoners were detained at both these sites during the struggle against apartheid.

Prisoners ranged from common criminals to thousands of ordinary men and women who contravened colonial and apartheid legislation, such as pass laws and the Group Areas Act.

Constitution Hill offers tours that take you to the Number Four prison, the Old Fort and the women's jail.

The journey to the notorious Number Four prison demonstrates how the apartheid system made criminals of black men. Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela and students who took part in the 1976 uprising were all detained here.

The cell in which Nelson Mandela was detained

Built in 1893, the Old Fort was used as a fortress by Paul Kruger during the Anglo-Boer War. It was later used to detain white male prisoners, with Nelson Mandela being the only black prisoner to be held in this “whites-only” prison.

The Victorian-style women's prison is where political activists such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Fatima Meer were held.

The words 'Constitutional Court' are displayed next to the entrance of the court in the 11 official South African languages

Inside the Constitutional Court

In the mid-1990s, what is now known as Constitution Hill was chosen as the site for the new Constitutional Court, which would become the guardian of the human rights fought for by so many people who were imprisoned here.

The architectural detail and artwork in the Constitution Hill are impressive

Constitution Hill also hosts a monthly lifestyle and culture market, Market @ The Fort, with a contemporary African theme. Besides selling goods, the aim is to have a lively space where traders interact with their clients, which means you can look forward to food-and-wine tastings, haircare demonstrations, make-up lessons,hair plaiting, home decor expos and live cooking shows.

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