Prison Became Icon Of Democracy
Today, Constitution Hill functions as a museum, as well as a symbol of democracy in South Africa. It was however, once home to a military fort as well as the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The site has no shortage of a history with war stories, human rights cases and political imprisonment.
The prison began in 1892, when Paul Kruger, the president of the time approved it’s construction. The site was chosen since it sits looking over Johannesburg.
The Old Fort, which also was used to hold prisoners over time, was built in 1896 when the British tried to fight the government at the time. Prisoners of war were held in that fort during the South African War.
Another section of cells, known as Number Four, opened in 1902 due to the mass numbers in the prison. It was intended to be there only temporarily, however it was used for an entire 80 years.
In 1948, the Nationalist government took over and Apartheid came too. More and more prisoners started to come and it was highly overcrowded, with over 90,000 prisoners locked up the facility.
Many well-known figures were kept there as prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Fatima Meer, Joe Slovo and many others. With thousands of prisoners together in such a small and crowded place, there was terrible issues of disease and sanitation.
Following nearly a century, the prison closed. It reopened as a living museum in the 1990s, the one we know today. It now honors South Africa’s struggle for democracy.
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