I took an afternoon to head up to Constitution Hill because I didn’t know what it was all about, in all honesty.
Constitution Hill is a heritage site in Johannesburg that used to be the main prison and court that housed many famous South Africans who committed crimes during the famous Apartheid Regime.
Back in the day, Johannesburg was South Africa’s major business hub, the city of Gold. I can only assume that many south africans – black, white, indian and coloured – fled to Johannesburg in search of jobs and business. With the Afrikaans government in ruling, the apartheid regime was sadly part of the constitution, separating people of different races, in terms of where one would be allowed to walk at certain hours of the day, where you could work, what work you were allowed to do, where you would live, which public spaces you were allowed to use and so forth. By having such stringent rules that was biased towards the colour of your skin, it was inevitable that this would cause distress, hatred, anger and conspiracy to those races who were negatively affected.
‘Criminals’ were placed at Constitution hill for crimes such as protesting, conspiracies against the ruling government of that time, and even for walking in an area of the city without your ‘dompass’, a passport that would tell you whether you could be in that specific place at that specific time. These ‘criminals’ would be put amongst other criminals who were committed for crimes such as murder, rape, theft and house break ins.
People would be sent to Constitution Hill, imprisoned until their sentence time, where they would go to the consitution court, which is situated on the hill next to the prison.
Famous activists such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Luthuli, Bram Fischer and Joe Slovo were imprisoned here.
WHAT TO SEE WHEN YOU VISIT
You can take a guided tour, which I recommend, to learn more detail about the history. If you’re on the court side, go to the information office where you can book a tour.
I actually did the walk myself, which is also an option. You can start at the information office, which is infront of the prison. You will be walking into different parts of the prison, each of the cells has information inside that you can read about how prisoners were treated, how they slept, used the bathroom, what they ate, where they accepted visitors… it’s all very interesting but extremely saddening. From this court yard, you will also see the area where they isolated prisoners. I learned alot about why people were being imprisoned, some prisoners said they were in and out of there all the time and practically grew up in prison for not carrying their dompass with them.
From there you can go see the Consitutional Court, which also has some art displays inside the building. It also gives you information on who wrote the new constitution, how long it took to get a democratic constitution in place, what the pillars of freedom were and why they were added to the constitution.
From the court, you can take a walk up to the Old Forte and see another part of the prison where white prisoners were held, as well as the cell where Nelson Mandela was held when he was ill.
I don’t want to write much about the place, because it is interesting to go see the forte, read the exhibits, and get that stone wall feel of the place.
There is a coffee shop called The Hill, with a small menu and very well priced coffee!
Find it at 11 Kotze road, Johannesburg.
Should you want to book a tour, venue or have any inquiries, you can find the information on their website
Entrance to the Olde Forte, on Kotze street. This is where prisoners were brought in and released.
A normal prison cell
Inside the Constitution Court
The Hill, coffee shop