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This is the facade of the Constitutional Court. The name is written in the 11 official languages of South Africa.

If there is one thing I would recommend as a “must see” it would be Constitution Hill. This is the home of the Constitutional Court in South Africa and it is built on the site of and old prison. The prison was called Old Fort Prison Complex but was commonly known as Number Four. Many leading political activists including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were kept here for periods. The prison itself did not close until 1983 and the main reason was that it was getting overcrowded.

When we got there we thought the place was closed because there was only one car in the parking lot and it was a public holiday. We got a great tour of the area with a guy called David. He took us through the history of the prison with his great knowledge and he could tell us a lot about the past but also about the complex today. We started looking at the old fort entrance and the barrier that is built around the fort and we were told how the prisoners were treated when they first arrived. We were taken through the old cells where we could look at sleeping arrangements, isolation cells and there were also small rooms with TV’s where we could here stories told by people that were kept in the prison. The tour ended in the Constitutional court itself.

But the main thing in this complex is the symbolism. Part of the prison (known as the Awaiting Trial Block) was torn down to make room for the court itself. In order to show that the injustice of the past can be a part of the justice for the future, the bricks have been re-used in the new court house. The stairwells to the building have been preserved and two are even incorporated in the court building itself. The Constitutional Court is also a building full of symbolism. The logo itself shows people in shelter under a tree discussing and it represent the past way of doing things. This can also be seen in the lobby of the court house where pillars are skew to represent the tree trunks and natural light comes in through the ceiling and the lights are formed like leaves. The door into the court itself is a 9 meter timber door and 27 human rights are carved into the wood.

It might sound boring to see a prison and a court house but I learned a lot from it. The fact that this place of terror only shut down about 20 years ago makes it frightening. I think that it was amazing to see how they have used symbolism to bring the past with them in order to prevent that stuff like this happens again.

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