The prison next door.

When the Constitutional Court was looking for a permanent location in 1995, it did something pretty spectacular.  It decided to chose the site of one of the most notorious prisons in all of South Africa to call home.

The first prison was actually built way back in 1893, by the Boers (Afrikaners) who then built a fort around it.  The location was at one of the highest points in Johannesburg and provided the Boers a vantage point to keep track of the British who were advancing.

The British took control of the fort in 1900 and used it to hold Boer soldiers.  The prison was later expanded to include a section for “native” men (Number Four) and a section for women.

This was Johannesburg’s main prison for eight decades and held all sorts of political prisoners including Mahatma Gandhi, Bram Fischer, Robert Sobukwe, and Nelson Mandela (Mandela was held in the white section after authorities were tipped off to a planned jail break).

On all this, the Constitutional Court came and laid roots.  The Court is actually built with over 150,000 bricks from old prison buildings.  Being so close to the prison is a powerful reminder to everyone at the Court of SA’s brutal past.

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