Johannesburg is a beautiful city. Its O.R. Tambo airport is one of the biggest hubs in the continent of Africa with flights to and from major airports around the world. South Africa is also home to beautiful wildlife.
Johannesburg, and the whole country of South Africa, has a difficult past. Apartheid, or institutional racism, has made life difficult for many Black South Africans. It ended only in 1991, which is pretty recent.
Amid this tumultuous history, heroes rose and helped pave the way for peace and reconciliation. Nobel Peace Prize awardee Nelson Mandela is easily the most recognizable name from this era.
I visited Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg sometime in July 2017. It was a chilly, rainy morning. We bought our tickets. We waited for the guide and took the tour of the facility.
You have two options for tickets:
- Highlights Tour, lasts for 1 hour, costs ZAR 65 for adults
- Full Tour, lasts for 2 hours, costs ZAR 85 for adults
If you want other options for the tour, you can check out this page: https://www.constitutionhill.org.za/pages/opening-hours-and-admission You can also purchase tickets online.
It was a rainy morning and we saw a rainbow on the way there.
Bits and Pieces of History
The Constitution Hill is built upon an Old Fort built in the late 1800s as a way to defend against the British. It used to have towers. The towers below had been reconstructed with contemporary materials.
This facility was converted to a prison for those who violated inhumane laws related to apartheid and other minor infractions. Civil rights activists and criminals were imprisoned alongside each other.
Gandhi and Mandela
Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi was also imprisoned here, as well as Nelson Mandela. These two men were hammered by great difficulties and came out as heroes of human freedom.
My son’s blue car is in the foreground below. He asks me to carry one of his cars in my travels. I sure hope that when he grows up, he will also be heroic in addressing challenges and issues in the world.
The situation for prisoners was inhumane to say the least. They did not have enough space, they didn’t have enough food, and to make it worse, they only had a chance to take a bath when it rained. If they were noisy or committed anything that the guards didn’t like, they were put into solitary confinement.
These are the solitary confinement cells:
Sometimes, the prisoners in solitary confinement were kept in total darkness during daylight hours and at night, the light in their cell were turned on to confuse them as to the number of hours they spent in the cells.
In spite of their pitiful condition, prisoners found ways to create art and sculpture made out of soap, paper, and blankets. They also used utensils, cups, and any thing they can use to create drumbeats and sing.
Thankfully, the Apartheid system came down in 1991 and the new Constitution of South Africa was ratified. To commemorate the founding of the new Constitution, the Flame of Democracy was lit on top of Constitution Hill.
While you’re there, don’t forget to look at the awesome artworks on the hill and inside the Constitutional Court.
Prepare for a Heart-breaking Experience
Going to Constitution Hill can be a difficult experience. You get to watch videos of prisoners’ experience there. You will also come to realize how awful humans can be to each other. But it can also be a beacon of hope. When we confront injustice and be relentless at it, we just might win like Gandhi, Mandela, and the countless, nameless individuals who supported them.