Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
The Constitution Hill precinct is located at 11 Kotze Street in Braamfontein, Johannesburg near the western end of the suburb of Hillbrow. Constitution Hill is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The first court session in the new building at this location was held in February 2004.
The hill was formerly the site of a fort which was later used as a prison. The Old Fort Prison complex is known as Number Four. The original prison was built to house white male prisoners in 1892. The Old Fort was built around this prison by Paul Kruger from 1896 to 1899 to protect the South African Republic from the threat of British invasion. Later, Boer military leaders of the Anglo-Boer War were imprisoned here by the British.
The Old Fort prison was later extended to include "native" cells, called Section 4 and Section 5, and, in 1907, a women's section was added. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Both political activists opposed to apartheid and common criminals were held at the prison. Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned here in 1906, and striking white mineworkers in 1907, 1913 and 1922.
Under the apartheid government, only whites were held in the Old Fort itself, except for Nelson Mandela, who was given a bed in the hospital section when he was as an awaiting-trial prisoner in 1962 prior to the Rivonia Trial. Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Albert Luthuli and Robert Sobukwe were also inmates.
The site housed prisoners until 1983, when it was closed. In 1995, the Constitutional Court justices began looking for a permanent location for the new Court.
The Constitutional Court
The court building itself was built using bricks from the demolished awaiting-trial wing of the former prison. The court building is open to the public who want to attend hearings or view the art gallery in the court atrium. The court houses a collection of more than 200 contemporary artworks chosen by Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs, including works by Gerard Sekoto, William Kentridge, and Cecil Skotnes.
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From the city of Johannesburg official website
The following links are from the city of Johannesburg official website.
- The Fort turns into the Court
- Recollecting the past brings the Old Fort alive
- Constitutional Court, an artwork through and through
- Constitution Hill tour captures essence of SA
- SA's history tied to the story of a fort
- On tour with Albie Sachs