Constitution Hill is a symbol of South Africa’s unique and triumphant democracy. Visitors to this complex, built on a ridge between Hillbrow and Braamfontein overlooking central Johannesburg, will likely be struck by how South Africa has transformed emblems of its repressive past into present-day custodians of democracy and freedom.
Before Constitutional Hill opened its doors in 2004, the precinct housed the notorious Old Fort prison complex. The Old Fort, a high security prison built in the 1890s, originally housed prisoners of war during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). With the later addition of the “native prison”, called “Number Four”, and the Women’s Jail, the complex came to be a detention centre for political dissidents, striking mineworkers, those deemed “anti-establishment” and those who simply violated the inhuman pass laws of the time. Former president Nelson Mandela and passive resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi were among the many pro-democracy leaders who served time at the infamous prison.
Today, the notorious site of yesteryear has become a symbol of freedom. The Awaiting Trial Block of the Old Fort made way for the Constitutional Court, which works to uphold the rights and dignity of all who live in South Africa. Ordinary South Africans can visit the court, the highest in the country, and watch the judges at work. They proudly view Constitution Hill as a place that restores and protects their dignity and basic human rights.
Besides seeing the workings of the court itself, visitors to the precinct can learn more about South Africa’s path to freedom and democracy from various exhibitions at the Constitution Hill Museum and other exhibition spaces. Visitors can read former prisoners’ and warders’ personal accounts or listen to audio recordings of their experiences at the Old Fort prison complex. They can also contribute to the “We, The People Wall”, which affords them an opportunity to document their experiences of the past and present.
Students, children: R20
Senior Citizens: R25 per person
Monday to Friday from 09h00 to 17h00
Saturday from 10h00 to 14h00
If you are travelling along Jan Smuts in the direction of the inner city, turn left into Empire Road, then right into Queen Street. At the next traffic light, turn right into Sam Hancock Street, where you will find the visitors’ parking area.