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Constitution Hill in Johannesburg

Constitution Hill in Johannesburg

On our last day, Mark and Margie decided to take us to Johannesburg to the Apartheid museum. Johannesburg is a huge city, very modern with some older buildings mixed in.

We got to the Apartheid museum and it was closed on Monday, so no luck there. Margie suggested we go to Constitution Hill so off we went. Constitution Hill is the tallest point in Johannesburg and was originally built as a fort to defend against the Boers and others.

It was turned into a prison in the 1800's and remained a prison until the Constitutional Court was formed in the 1990's after the end of apartheid. We watched a brief introductory video and then were given a tour of the area. The first place we visited was the women's prison area. It had been redone after the government moved the squatters that had taken up residence in the area. Winnie Mandela and others we were not familar with had been imprisoned here for political crimes, not having a pass, or some were regular criminal charges. The displays and information were very informative but you didn't get as much a feeling of the grimness of the place until you went into "number Four" prison which is where the men were held.

The "number Four" prison has been left as it was when closed and you can only imagine what the conditions were like. Two male prisoners we were familar with were Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.

When the Constitutional Court was created, there were some unique features to the place. Between the prison and the Court are the African steps, a walkway to act as a "bridge from the oppression of the past to the hope of the future".

The signage indicating to entrance to the Constitutional Court is written in all ll official languages of South Africa. The wooden doors that you enter through are 8 meters tall (about 24 feet) and are carved with the 27 rights in the Bill of Rights in their Constitution.

"Justice under a tree" is symbolic of the traditional form of dispute resolution in African villages and is stylized in the foyer of the court.
There were many other reminders of the steps forward that have been taken in South Africa and it was a very moving place to visit.

After we had done the tour, we had a quick cup of coffee and then walked the ramparts of the fort. Of course with modern skyscrapers it is no longer the tallest point in the city. One interesting feature was we were on the divide where looking in one direction all rivers on that side of the rampart flow to the Indian Ocean and on the other side flow to the Atlantic.

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