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.
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 paneled 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 2012-2021. Images recreated 24/03/2016