Constitution Hill

11 Kotze Street, Braamfontein

About

All these buildings together were known as the Fort, a place that was notorious for its harsh treatment of prisoners: who ranged from common criminals to hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women who contravened colonial and apartheid legislation such as hut tax laws, beer brewing laws, pass laws and the Group Areas act. Many political prisoners were also incarcerated at the Fort. Boer military leaders were imprisoned during the South African war 1899-1902. In 1906 and 1913 Indian passive resisters (including Mahatma Gandhi) were incarcerated.

In the miners’ strikes of 1907, 1913, and the so-called Rand Revolt of 1922, white miners, whose particular racist brand of socialism was symbolized by their rallying cry: ‘Workers of the World Unite for a White South Africa’, were held in the Fort. Waves of resistors to the repressive regime of the new apartheid state passed through the entrance of the Old Fort: many involved in 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.

The prison complex of the Fort has impacted deeply on hundreds of thousands of ordinary South Africans lives as it was essentially a transitory prison where prisoners were held until they were sentenced before being transferred to serve their prison terms elsewhere.

The late 19th Century 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 is a city precinct managed by Blue IQ and JDA and anchored by the South African Constitutional Court which is the highest court in the country on constitutional matters.

Situated on a hill overlooking the bustling Johannesburg city and the fostered suburbs, Constitution Hill provides a unique perspective of Johannesburg and its rich history. The site is home to the Women’s Gaol museum, Number Four museum, and Old Fort museum. These areas host gripping exhibitions with themes that showcase South Africa’s rich heritage and advocate human rights.

Nearby