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!
Situated in the heart of Johannesburg, Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s rather controversial transition from Colonialism and Apartheid to Democracy.
The site served as a Prison and briefly as a military Fort for 100 years, incarcerating men, women and even children within its walls. South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the Land, which can be found within the Constitution Hill precinct and which is open to the public.
Before Constitutional Hill opened its doors as a Museum in 2004, the precinct housed a collection of notorious Prisons which included: the Old Fort, which was a high-security prison built in the 1890s to house prisoners of war during the Anglo-Boer Wars (1899-1902); the Number Four Prison Block, a so-called “Native Prison”, and the Women’s Prison. During the Apartheid era the Prison Complex became a Detention Centre for political dissidents, striking mineworkers, those deemed “anti-establishment” and those who simply violated the pass laws of the time. (Many ordinary and famous people were incarcerated here during its years as a Prison including former president Nelson Mandela and passive resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi, who were both imprisoned for their pro-democracy activism.)
When the court justices needed a permanent location for the new Constitutional Court in 1995, the Prison Complex, which had become rundown and neglected was converted for this purpose. It was centrally situated and boasted a rich cultural History. In fact, during the apartheid regime, historical icons like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Sobukwe and Albert Luthuli, all spent countless hours and cold nights in the squalid conditions of the Number Four prison cells. In 1983, the Prison was shut down. However, this has now been transformed into a Museum.
Constitution Hill has a public participation programme called: 'We the People'. Ex-prisoners and wardens of the Prison are invited back, to participate in important research-based workshops!