Month: March 2012

The Constitutional Court

Part of my explorations on the 10th of March was the Constitutional Court complex which is part of Constitution Hill. I never quite figured out how it fitted into the old jail complex, but now I know a bit more. In reality parts of the awaiting trail jail were broken down and integrated into the construction of the building, and the old “Number 4” section is now available on view as part of the tour. It may be easier to deal with this as two separate blog posts, but I will see how things go.
The official blurb reads… “The Constitutional Court is the home of the Constitution, the highest court in the land. Like the Constitution itself, the court was designed to be open, accessible and transparent. The court is built around the remaining stairwells of the old awaiting trail block. The foyer of the court is a light filled area populated by slanting columns, an architectural metaphor for trees under which the African villagers traditionally congregate to discuss matters of social importance to the elders. Any member of the public may attend court hearings, or may enter the building to view the many individually commissioned artworks on display…”
The best place to start the visit is in the courtyard in front of the court, with its three stairwells topped by glass. In one of these is “The Flame of Democracy”  which was unveiled on 10 December 2011.
What really struck me though were marble silhouettes that were laid out in the paving like shadows that were lengthening.
The building itself is entered by 9 Metre high wooden doors that are carved with words and symbols that convey 27 rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. These are seriously magnificent doors, carved by tradespeople in Durban. A photograph does not do them justice.
Inside the foyer are the Constitutions of South Africa, from when we became a Union in 1910, till when we became a Republic in 1961 and as we are today from 1994. It is possible these are the original documents, or they may be facsimiles.

1910. Union Of South Africa.

There is a lot of symbolism in this building, and to describe or understand it all is beyond me, but the Constitutional Court of South Africa website  does have a lot about the building, its design, function and role in South Africa. 

The actual court itself is not what I expected. It is not a heavy panelled monolith with lots of wood and leather. Instead it is a light airy space, and it feels very much different from what I would have expected a court to feel like. What makes it special is the incorporation of the bricks from the awaiting trail block, somehow it lends a touch of humanity and recognition to those who went before.
That huge flag on the wall is actually a beaded piece and is truly spectacular,
Some of the artwork on display is really beautiful, but the real beaut is the court and its foyer. I came away feeling a sense of euphoria, but also apprehensive that this document was in danger of  being altered for an agenda that will do this country nothing but harm. 
It is well worth visiting here, not only to see the court, but to also experience some of the horrors of the jails that held so much misery. It is ironic that out of that darkness light came forth. Let’s just hope that the light does not end up being extinguished.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016 

Learning a new career

For those that are interested, I was made redundant last year, 10 years of specialisation wiped out by corporate greed and incompetence. The job market for my skills in SA are nil. I decided to try for a new trade, namely Refrigeration and Air Conditioning aka HVAC.
I chose a local training provider who had a good reputation, and which was close to home. The previous company had employed 2 junior techs from this provider and we had employed them successfully for over 1 year which vouched for their capabilities and training. When I originally went to this provider to see about the course I met someone who set alarm bells off, but he insisted that the trainer for HVAC was a genius (and his reputation was as such).
Come the first day of class and guess who is the new trainer? not the genius I was hoping for, but the person who set my alarm bells off in the first place.
Broekskeur is the word. Things are not going well. For starters the facilities at the college are poor. The handbasin has not been cleaned since I first went into the loo (which I tend to do often) on day 1, we are now on day 7. The “textbook” is abysmal, just editing out the spelling mistakes would make it better, although that is not saying much. 
Lectures are heavy going. This is a pretty theoretical subject that delves into thermodynamics and physics, with a healthy dose of electrical and plumbing to boot. It’s not that the lecturer does not know his onions, its just that he never gets to his onions, and when he does it is via Kroonstad! I will give him credit for one thing though, he knows his maths.
The buzzword is “Google”, and while I do use a search engine a lot, it does not help if I ask a question and get “Google” as an answer.  When I asked my first question on day one I received a lecture about all my personality flaws instead and the instruction to use Google. The problem is, the question I asked then was pertinent to what we learnt last week. Every question we ask may lead us to a lecture about how to run a business, or alternatively be dealt with at the extreme end of a tangent. Things are not going well at all. 
At this point I am pretty sure I am too dumb to learn this stuff. I can’t comment on the rest of the class, but at least 4 of us have the mutters, the other 3 people don’t really say very much at all. Is that a good thing or not? 
There are 13 days left, and I have no idea how they will go. Probably as badly as the 7 we have gone through already.   Exam? I will never pass it. But, if I get one of those lecturer evaluation forms, or college evaluation forms, be rest assured, I will be writing a lot of really pertinent things.

A few weeks later.
I met with two of our classmates and we discussed the “training” and how awful it had been, and how awful the “lecturer” had been. It was not worth the money we spent on it, neither was it any help in even fixing a fridge. I learnt much more during an informal session we set up for ourselves than I did during that month. No wonder there are so many “fly-by-nights” and “bakkie brigades” making a mess in the field and screwing the consumers. 

© DRW 2012-2018. Created 13 March 2012

Johannesburg Fort

In all the years I lived in Hillbrow I occasionally would pass the Johannesburg Fort and try to imagine what was inside those ramparts. I never thought that one day I would get a chance to have a look. History does not tell us much about this old building, it was built by Paul Kruger from 1896-1899 to protect the Zuid Afrikanse Republiek (ZAR) from the threat of a British invasion, and to keep watch over the miners flocking to the gold fields of the village (that later became the city of Johannesburg) below. Following the Boer War it incorporated into the jail complex that was built around it, although during the apartheid era only whites were held there. The luckless African male prisoners being held at the “Number Four” jail not too far away. The sloping entrance tunnel was the last view that many prisoners would have of the outside world before being taken into the buildings behind the earthern ramparts.

Entrance tunnel

Compared to Fort Klapperkop and Fort Schanskop in Pretoria the buildings within the ramparts are laid out very differently, but have not lost their military character. Sadly, there was no real access to any of the interior buildings, although I did get to stroll on the ramparts and explore some of tunnels beneath them.
The view in all directions is limited by the buildings that have sprung up on either side of the site, however, if one goes back 110 years, the view would have been very different, and the closeness to the railway lines would have made the transportation of prisoners and supplies more controllable.
Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Looking East to Pretoria Street in Hillbrow

Striking mineworkers from the 1922 Rand Revolt were held at the Fort, as were a number of political figures from our past. The whole fort complex was actually a series of jails, including a women’s jail, an awaiting trial jail,  the number 4 complex and the physical fort itself. All have now been transformed into the Constitution Hill complex.
The buildings at the back of the fort

The buildings at the back of the fort

Facade across the interior gate was created by Anton Van Vouw

The rooms that I explored were all beneath the eastern ramparts. They were entered through a curved tunnel and all had the curved ceilings and claustrophobic feel about them. The literature states that these rooms under the ramparts were used as barracks and storerooms and not for prisoners. I suspect that there were not pleasant places to live in, given the sparse ventilation.    

Ramparts and interior buildings

Ramparts and interior buildings

Looking South from the ramparts

Looking South from the ramparts

Today the fort does not really dominate the skyline, it is more of a curiously grassed hill that hides its interior from the world. Ironically it also faces onto the Constitutional Court and is a reminder that the constitution needs protection from those who would like to change it to suit their own political agendas. There are no guns here, but the reminder is there in those strange crenelated walls and isolated guard posts.

View northwards, Constitutional Court is on the right.

I need to do more research on this building and its history, because it has seen so much history and is one of the older surviving structures of Johannesburg.  The relevant Wikipedia page does not say much about it, and so far I haven’t seen anything really definitive. There is an interesting account of the fort in 1969 at the Artefacts site, but it is a small part of the chain in this area, and in later blog posts I will explore the other buildings around it.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images and links recreated 23/03/2016