Eva-Lotta Jansson
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Video: A deeper look at the new silhouetted prison guards atop The Old Fort on Constitution Hill

Johannesburg, South Africa Current Affairs December 20 @ 11:08am

3-7 min video short for web: At first glance, it might seem strange that new silhouetted figures in the shape of apartheid-era prison guards and Anglo-Boer War soldiers have been added to the skyline over the Old Fort prison on Constitution Hill, in Johannesburg.

There’s an ongoing discussion in South Africa about whether depictions of historical figures who violated human rights here should stay or go. So why were these figures added to South Africa’s sculptural landscape now?

Digging a little deeper, speaking to Reuben Phasha, Constitution Hill’s Heritage and Education Manager, there’s more to these new characters than first meets the eye. Contrary to common assumptions, the prison wardens who worked here during apartheid weren’t only whites, Phasha explains. ”Most of the prison wardens that would be walking on top of the ramparts for longer hours would be the black prison wardens. They were sort of denied the right to rest,” he says.

Besides, Phasha adds, it’s important to preserve and display monuments of our colonial past, to remember what happened. He concedes that Constitution Hill might be in a unique position to put such things on display.

At the dawn of democracy, the justices of the Constitutional Court “chose this colonial old prison that used to violate human rights” telling “a beautiful story of building a court in a place that used to violate human rights… a court that now protects human rights. The symbolism of it, it’s having the last laugh at history,” says Phasha.

Photo caption: A silhouetted figure keeps guard over the Old Fort on Constitution Hill, as part of a new permanent exhibition there. Using technology such as holograms, the new exhibition additions officially opened in December, telling the stories about prisoners who were housed here, both during the gold rush and later during apartheid. During apartheid, The Old Fort housed white prisoners, while black prisoners were held in a different building nearby. Prison guards and soldiers also feature in the exhibition as the Old Fort was a military garrison during the Anglo-Boer War. Copyright Eva-Lotta Jansson
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