Constitution Hill – A Look into History

Constitution Hill is a well-known South African historical and cultural heritage site. Previously the location of the infamous Old Fort Prison Complex or Number Four, it is today the home of South Africa's Constitutional Court. Where in the past it was the site of brutal punishment, even afflicting political activists such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, it is now an institution for the protection of freedom and rights. Constitution Hill tells the tale of South Africa's difficult past and its remarkable transition to democracy.

Located in Johannesburg, the Constitutional Court of South Africa is an important historical landmark and a symbol of democracy in the country. All are invited to visit Constitutional Hill to gain greater insight into South Africa’s renowned political reformation. Stretching as far back as the British war with the Boers, to the Soweto Youth Uprising and the introduction of democracy in South Africa, Constitution Hill has seen it all. Visitors will be impressed by the significant artwork in the public gallery. Exhibitions and guided tours through the heritage site will draw you through the fight for freedom in a well-designed interactive experience. Stroll through the southern hemisphere’s biggest human rights library or view the Court’s 11 justices carefully considering the Constitution.

Steeped in history, Constitution Hill tells of both pain and joy. It was through the doors of the old Prison Complex that some 2,000 black people were processed each day. Many well-known freedom-fighters spent days in the cells of Number Four. In 1983 the prison was closed, leaving behind a dark mark on Johannesburg’s history. However, this has changed as it is now a powerful human rights museum, a symbol of hope. Feel free to take part in the excellent interactive exhibitions, learning and leaving a record as you go along. As you walk through Number Four you will come to comprehend life at the base of a country’s imposed racial hierarchy and the oppression of black people under apartheid. At the Mandela Cell you can watch a film regarding Nelson Mandela’s experience at Old Fort and his return 40 years later. The Women’s Jail is a fine Victorian building, however inside you will discover the difficulties that many underwent within its walls. Along Constitution Square you will see the “We the People” Wall with contributors from around South Africa including several ex-prisoners. There is much more to see in addition to those mentioned here. If you are visiting Johannesburg soon or are a resident, be sure to spend a morning at Constitution Hill for a truly enlightening and emotionally powerful experience.

back to Heritage Sites