My friend and I went to Constitution hill today and that on national Human Rights Day, exactly eight years after the inauguration of the constitutional court building. Okay, little confession – when we decided to go we hadn’t realised it was Human Rights Day because a public holiday is a welcomed day away from the office and this was one of the things on my list of things to see but anyhoo it was really great.
We had a fascinating tour guide called Pius, dressed in yellow shorts and a bow tie that took us around the Old Fort jail, the Women’s Goal, Constitutional court and Number Four. Murderers such as Daisy de Melker and activists such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Mahatma Gandhi were imprisoned there but the jails were demolished in the early 1980s.
The constitutional court was established after the first democratic elections in 1994 and is built on the site of the Old Fort prison, on the highest point in Johannesburg. You enter the constitutional court building through massive wooden doors that have signs, symbols and words engraved in the 11 official languages as well as sign language and Braille. It represents the 27 rights in our constitutional Bill of Rights. The constitutional core values are also handwritten on the ceiling beams outside. The courtroom itself is centred around the theme of “justice under a tree” that is evident in the decor and design and hosts a beautiful handmade beaded flag. There are 11 chairs around the cow hide covered podium for the 11 judges that represent all the cultures of our country.
The building also hosts the biggest law library in the southern hemisphere. We really enjoyed the tour (which costs only R30 pp) and went for lunch at Killarney Mall afterwards and then made sure we got out of town as everyone was getting ready for the Jozi Nike night run. What a fabulous day.