Welcome to Constitution Hill, a place that tells the fascinating, often tragic, story of South Africa’s real history. It is a tale of social, cultural, and political injustices, but also one of victory and the protection of rights and dignity for all citizens. At Constitution Hill, this journey to freedom comes alive through immersive tours and thought-provoking exhibitions.
Situated in Johannesburg, the vibrant urban epicenter of Gauteng, Constitution Hill has played a significant role in the history and heritage of South Africa. It is here that the Constitutional Court, a symbol of democracy, stands proudly. The court was constructed on the site of the Old Fort Prison Complex, known as Number Four, which was once a place where prisoners, both political and otherwise, were held under often unfair convictions and sentences.
Today, the Constitutional Court stands as a testament to the hard-fought freedom that South Africa achieved. It is a striking architectural marvel that captivates visitors and serves as a reminder of the country’s tumultuous past.
When the justices of the Constitutional Court sought a permanent location in 1995, they found it in the rundown and neglected Prison Complex. This central location offered not only the right atmosphere but also a rich cultural history. During the apartheid regime, the Number Four prison cells witnessed the daily struggles of 2,000 black South Africans who fought against the injustices and racial inequalities of the political system. Among these courageous individuals were historical icons such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Sobukwe, and Albert Luthuli, who endured countless hours and cold nights in the squalid conditions of the prison.
In 1983, the prison was finally closed down, but its painful legacy remained. However, this haunting reminder has been transformed into a vibrant and attractive museum dedicated to celebrating the resilience of the human spirit and South Africa’s journey to a free and fair society.
Visitors to Constitution Hill have the opportunity to be a part of this fascinating history and witness the artwork that not only dazzles aesthetically but also speaks volumes about the struggle for freedom. The public gallery allows you to observe the 11 justices hard at work, while the Southern Hemisphere’s largest human rights library reveals intriguing cases and political events.
One of the most poignant aspects of Constitution Hill is the public participation program called We the People. This initiative invites ex-prisoners and wardens of the prison to participate in research-based workshops, aimed at restoring dignity and providing an opportunity for debriefing. Through the use of images, voices, stories, and sounds of prison life, these workshops form the basis of many of the tours and exhibitions, showcasing the strength and resilience of the human mind and body against the misuse of power and the effects of abuse.
The exhibitions at Constitution Hill offer participatory experiences that deeply engage visitors. They provide a personal connection to the past, present, and future.
Step into the prison and gain a glimpse into the unfair and often inhumane treatment suffered by people based on their race and political affiliations.
The Mandela Cell
Experience a short film recounting Nelson Mandela’s time at the Old Fort Prison and his emotional return to Constitution Hill four decades later. Witness the extraordinary journey of a man who inspired change and transformed society.
The Women’s Jail
Although currently undergoing renovation, this beautiful Victorian-style building is celebrated through an exhibition honoring the influential women who shaped the country’s future, triumphing over immense pain and opposition.
We the People Wall
Leave your message on this wall, which stretches across Constitution Square. Join other visitors and contributors, including Nelson Mandela, in sharing your thoughts and aspirations.
We the People
Explore a photographic exhibition documenting the first We the People road trip, which traversed rural communities across South Africa in 2003, capturing the diversity and resilience of its people.
Objects from the Past
Delve into an exhibition displaying preserved prison objects and emblems, testifying to the oppressive system of incarceration during apartheid South Africa.
Popular activities, tourist attractions, and points of interest in and near Constitution Hill
Beyond the captivating history and thought-provoking exhibitions, Constitution Hill and its surrounding area offer a plethora of activities, tourist attractions, and points of interest for visitors to explore.
Located just a short distance from Constitution Hill, the iconic Hillbrow Tower stands as one of Johannesburg’s most recognizable landmarks. Visitors can ascend the tower to enjoy panoramic views of the city, offering a unique perspective of Johannesburg’s urban landscape.
The Apartheid Museum
Adjacent to Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum provides a comprehensive and immersive experience that delves into the history and impact of apartheid in South Africa. Through compelling exhibits and multimedia presentations, visitors gain a deeper understanding of the struggle for freedom and the triumph of democracy.
Situated in the Newtown Cultural Precinct, Museum Africa offers a diverse collection of artifacts and exhibitions that showcase the rich cultural heritage of Johannesburg and the broader African continent. It provides insights into the city’s past, including its mining history, the vibrant arts scene, and the multicultural fabric of its society.
Located in Newtown, the Market Theatre is renowned for its contribution to South Africa’s performing arts scene. It features a variety of theatrical productions, including plays, musicals, and dance performances. The theater has been instrumental in promoting cultural diversity and freedom of expression.
Mary Fitzgerald Square
In close proximity to Constitution Hill, Mary Fitzgerald Square serves as a vibrant public space where events, concerts, and festivals take place. It has been a gathering point for important political rallies and celebrations throughout South Africa’s history. The square is also home to several art installations and sculptures that reflect the country’s cultural and political heritage.
A bustling shopping and entertainment complex, Newtown Junction offers a wide range of retail outlets, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It is a great place to unwind, enjoy a meal, or explore local fashion and crafts.
Johannesburg City Centre
Just a short distance away from Constitution Hill, the city center of Johannesburg boasts an array of attractions. From the historic Gandhi Square, named after Mahatma Gandhi, to the vibrant street markets of Diagonal Street, there is much to discover. Explore the lively streets, visit the historic buildings, and immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of this cosmopolitan hub.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Art enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which houses an extensive collection of contemporary and classical African art. The gallery showcases a diverse range of paintings, sculptures, and other artistic mediums, providing a platform for local and international artists to showcase their work.
SAB World of Beer
Beer aficionados can delve into the rich brewing heritage of South Africa at the SAB World of Beer. Located nearby in Newtown, this interactive museum offers guided tours that delve into the history, art, and science of beer brewing. Visitors can enjoy tastings and learn about the role of beer in South African culture.
These attractions and activities, combined with the immersive experience of Constitution Hill, provide visitors with a comprehensive understanding of Johannesburg’s history, culture, and vibrant spirit. Whether you are interested in art, history, theater, or simply soaking up the atmosphere of the city, there is something for everyone to enjoy in and near Constitution Hill.
Located near Constitution Hill, the Joburg Theatre is a hub of live entertainment and a premier destination for theater enthusiasts in Africa. This vibrant venue offers a range of activities, attractions, and points of interest to visitors. Here’s more about the Joburg Theatre and its offerings:
The Joburg Theatre stands as a testament to the thriving arts and culture scene in Johannesburg. With its three theaters, including the Nelson Mandela Theatre, the Fringe Theatre, and the Peoples Theatre, this venue hosts a diverse array of world-class international performances and home-grown theatrical productions.
From the moment you step into the Joburg Theatre complex, you’ll find a bustling atmosphere. The complex features not only theaters but also a News Café, where you can grab a bite to eat or enjoy a refreshing drink before or after a show. Additionally, the venue offers eight function rooms, which can be utilized for private dining experiences or corporate events.
The Joburg Theatre is committed to community development and has a dedicated space within the complex called Space. This facility aims to achieve community development goals by providing opportunities for local artists and performers to showcase their talents, collaborate, and develop their skills in a commercially viable environment.
The theater’s programming caters to a wide range of interests and age groups. Visitors can enjoy classical ballet performances by the acclaimed South African Ballet Theatre, witness the magic of comedy shows, immerse themselves in gripping dramas, indulge in the joy of pantomimes, and experience intimate single-handers or large ensemble productions. There are also special performances and productions designed specifically for young audiences, making the Joburg Theatre a family-friendly destination.
One unique feature of the Joburg Theatre is its two dance studios, which are occupied by the South African Ballet Theatre. Located above each other, these studios face south on Simmonds Street and have a glass facade, allowing passersby and members of the public to catch glimpses of dancers rehearsing their captivating performances.
The Joburg Theatre is not just a place for spectators; it is also a space for performers, musicians, writers, directors, designers, and technicians to flourish. It provides a platform for artists to develop their skills and showcase their creativity, contributing to the vibrant artistic landscape of Johannesburg.
Whether you’re a theater enthusiast, a lover of dance, or simply looking for a captivating live entertainment experience, the Joburg Theatre offers a dynamic and enriching cultural experience for visitors of all ages. With its diverse range of performances and its commitment to community development, this theater complex near Constitution Hill is a must-visit destination in Johannesburg.
Wits Art Museum
For art enthusiasts and those interested in Africa’s rich cultural heritage, a visit to the Wits Art Museum near Constitution Hill is an absolute must. This museum provides a captivating journey through Africa’s diverse artistic expressions, showcasing a vast collection of artworks that celebrate the continent’s unique heritage.
Opened in May 2012, the Wits Art Museum is home to one of the largest and most significant collections of African art in southern Africa. With over 9,000 items, the museum’s collection covers historical, classical, and contemporary artworks, offering a remarkable breadth and depth of artistic expression. Most of the works in the collection date from the 20th and 21st centuries, allowing visitors to explore the vibrant and evolving artistic landscape of Africa.
The historical South African art collection is a true highlight of the museum, featuring paintings by renowned artists such as Gladys Mgudlandlu, Walter Battiss, Maggie Laubser, and Irma Stern. The collection also includes captivating pencil drawings by Gerard Sekoto and JH Pierneef, bronze sculptures by Edoardo Villa and Sydney Kumalo, watercolours by Durant Sihlali, and linocuts by John Muafangejo and Azaria Mbatha, among many others. These artworks provide a glimpse into the diverse perspectives and artistic techniques that have shaped South Africa’s artistic heritage.
The Wits Art Museum also houses an impressive collection of classical African items from various regions, including Southern, West, Central, and East Africa. Visitors can marvel at displays of intricately carved wooden sculptures, mesmerizing wirework, vibrant beadwork, exquisite textiles, rhythmic drums, ceremonial and fighting sticks, intricate basketry, and evocative masks. These objects offer insights into the cultural traditions, beliefs, and craftsmanship of different African communities.
In addition to its historical and classical collections, the museum showcases a vibrant array of contemporary South African art. This collection encompasses a wide range of mediums, including photography, printmaking, sculpture, new media, paintings, watercolours, and drawings. Acclaimed artists such as William Kentridge, Alan Crump, Santu Mofokeng, Robert Hodgins, Kendell Geers, Penny Siopis, and Willem Boshoff are represented, reflecting the diverse artistic voices of South Africa. The museum also embraces the work of emerging artists, featuring names like Gabrielle Goliath, Nandipha Mntambo, Sandile Zulu, Gerhard Marx, Anthea Moys, and Zander Blom.
After immersing yourself in the rich world of African art, take a moment to relax and reflect in the museum’s café. Grab a refreshing drink and a bite to eat while browsing upcoming events and exhibitions, as the Wits Art Museum continually offers new opportunities for visitors to engage with the art and culture of Africa.
With its extensive collection spanning centuries and its commitment to showcasing diverse artistic voices, the Wits Art Museum near Constitution Hill is a captivating destination for art lovers, offering a deeper understanding and appreciation of Africa’s artistic heritage.
When visiting Constitution Hill, don’t miss the opportunity to gaze at the awe-inspiring wonders of the universe at the Johannesburg Planetarium, also known as the Wits Planetarium. While Johannesburg is often associated with shopping and entertainment, the planetarium offers a unique escape into the mesmerizing world of stars, galaxies, and celestial bodies.
Established in 1960 and owned by the University of the Witwatersrand, the Johannesburg Planetarium continues to captivate tens of thousands of visitors each year. It provides an enchanting experience for children and adults alike, allowing them to delve into the mysteries of the Milky Way, constellations, other galaxies, individual stars, the moon’s movements, and our Earth’s place in the vastness of space.
The planetarium’s regular shows offer a dazzling display of the night sky, with millions of stars illuminating the dome above. As visitors sit back and relax, they are treated to an hour-long journey that unveils the secrets of the universe, its immense scale, and the intricate choreography taking place millions of light years away.
The knowledgeable staff members of the planetarium are on hand to provide additional information, offer insights, and answer complex questions about stars, planets, and the cosmos. Their expertise adds depth to the experience, ensuring that visitors leave with a greater understanding and appreciation of the celestial wonders.
For young children between the ages of five and eight, there is a special Space Travel show. This pre-recorded presentation takes little ones on an imaginary rocket journey with Thomas, where they learn about three constellations, astronauts on the moon, and the moon’s influence on tides. It’s a delightful and educational adventure designed to spark their curiosity about the universe.
The planetarium can accommodate up to 400 visitors at a time, and tickets can be purchased online through webtickets.co.za or at the door, 30 minutes before each show. For group visits, it is recommended to book in advance to ensure availability.
Whether you’re a space enthusiast, a curious mind, or a family looking for an educational outing, the Johannesburg Planetarium offers a captivating experience that will leave you in awe of the vastness and beauty of the cosmos.
Embark on a fascinating journey to explore your origins at The Origins Centre at Wits, an exceptional learning center and home to Khoi San Rock Art. As one of the newest heritage resources in South Africa, this center offers a captivating glimpse into the origins of humans in Africa and the remarkable world of our earliest ancestors. Set aside a minimum of two hours to fully immerse yourself in this enlightening experience of “Exploring your Origins.”
At the Origins Centre, visitors have the opportunity to witness the earliest image ever created by humankind, discovered right here in South Africa. This remarkable artifact serves as a testament to the creative spirit and ingenuity of our ancient ancestors. Take an 80,000-year journey from the past to the present, delving into the art and culture that have shaped and inspired human innovation and modernity throughout history.
Delve deeper into your personal history by tracing your genetic makeup through DNA analysis, uncovering the fascinating story of who you truly are and discovering connections to the diverse tapestry of humanity. This interactive experience allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of their own heritage and the interconnectedness of all people.
The average museum experience at the Origins Centre typically lasts between 90 minutes to 2 hours, providing ample time to explore the diverse exhibits and engage with the wealth of information on Africa’s rich past. For enthusiasts seeking to delve even further into the subject matter, the center offers an extensive collection of multimedia materials that continue to grow, ensuring a comprehensive and immersive exploration of our origins.
To enhance your visit, audio guides are available in six languages, including Zulu, Sotho, English, Afrikaans, French, and German. These guides provide valuable insights and commentary, enriching your understanding of the exhibits and allowing for a more personalized and engaging experience.
The Origins Centre at Wits is a treasure trove of knowledge, offering a unique opportunity to connect with the ancient history of Africa and delve into the fascinating story of human origins. Whether you are a history enthusiast, a curious learner, or simply eager to discover more about your own heritage, this center provides an immersive and thought-provoking experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation of our shared human journey.
Constitution Hill stands as a testament to the power of resilience and the ability to rebuild after a dark past. It invites all South Africans and international visitors to bear witness to the pain and injustices of history, and to join in the creation of a nation founded on strength, optimism, and hope. A visit to Constitution Hill is an enriching and essential experience that will leave you with a profound understanding of South Africa’s journey to freedom and its ongoing commitment to protecting human rights and dignity.