“I Could Hear The Whispers, I Could Feel The Hurt” by Penni KimbleĀ 

Taken by Alli Montaie

Photo of Sierra Jennings

I had no idea what I was really getting myself into….Number Four, from my perspective, was and still is a menacing piece of the past that still stands to, not only be a lesson on mistakes of the last, but also a story to instill in others a bout of change for future generations. That doesn’t mean it was not absolutely terrifying to walk through. 

Once you arrive at the meeting point before the tour you are lead down the very same path that prisoners were taken to enter the jail. I couldn’t bear to hang my head because I could almost feel the weight of shackles, guilt, and sadness weighing on my neck…but in turn it was also hard to stare straight into the tunnel because I knew I was going to a place that was the last stop for some and many of them didn’t even know it.

I couldn’t bear to walk inside a regular cell, let alone solitary confinement. It was like I coud hear the malice, I could hear the voices of those people being treated so badly that I cannot think of a word to describe it. People say they were treated like animals but I have never heard of ay animal being treated as badly as the [Black] people in this prison. It is hard to recount what I saw without my eyes welling with tears of sadness. 

Prisoners were told to strip naked, forced to reveal every inch of themselves to wardens, and “dance” to unveil any hidden items. This was done in front of other prisoners as well, young and old alike. Prisoners were to eat over the makeshift toilets as they were being used in order to prevent them from hiding or stealing anything. There was not proper plumbing so bacteria and infectious diseases ran rampant, especially in toilet and “shower” areas. One of the most devastating sites was that of the isolation cells. They were barely stand able rooms of a cold concrete material with a small hole at the top for air. Prisoners were locked in there 23 out of 24 hours of a day and sometimes stayed in the cells for months or years on end. One of the most horrid realizations was when you look at the way Number Four was built, you noticed it was built on a slant into the side of a hill, the isolation chambers being the lowest part that, when it rained, those cells would flood…with prisoners trapped inside. 

There is, however, a small silver lining. These people, these former prisoners. . . they survived. They lived. They cared enough about future generations that they shared their stories in the hopes to prevent such unspeakable events from repeating themselves. And that, however sad the story, is the most important part.


The Symbolism of Justice by Casey Wisely

Friday, we got to visit the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The court is located in the Old Fort, just outside the doors to Number Four. The building is beautiful, and amazingly incorporates well thought out symbols to represent the past, present and future of both Constitutional Hill and South Africa as a whole.

The building is located where the Awaiting Trial Block once stood. This block was created solely to house black prisoners awaiting their trials and sentencing. There are reclaimed bricks from the block that create a walkway between the prison and the court; a bridge from the oppression of her past to the hope of the future.

The outside signage reads constitutional court in all eleven official languages of South Africa, and behind it, engraved on the ceiling beams are the words “dignity, equality and freedom” written in the different official languages. The engravings are in the handwriting of the first judges of this new court. Dignity, equality and freedom are the core constitutional values of South Africa. I think it’s really significant that they are engraved in the foundation of the building, as they are the foundation of any decision to be made inside the court.

In African tradition, resolution of disputes occur under the shade of a tree. This motif is incorporated in much of the court, with art installations in the lobby to the carpet in the court chamber, to the logo of the court. The tree is a really interesting motif to use, as a tree protects no matter who is underneath. The branches will continue to grow and adapt and offer more protection, just as justice should.

My favorite piece of symbolism is the ladder in the lobby. This ladder depicts the history of oppression and change in South Africa. Each rung marks a stage of progression to where south africa is now. The top three rungs really explain South Africa in a nutshell. There is a white elephant bone, representing that the past much never be forgotten, followed by a snake that signifies that the country will be forever be moving forward, never backwards. South Africa has experienced a really tumultuous history that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that past can’t hold them back.

The final rung is a representation of the many diverse peoples of South Africa. It really is the rainbow nation, and it is amazing that such diversity is so celebrated and that that celebration continues in the highest court.

Inside the court, the Justices sit at the front of the room at the same level as the lawyers. There is no witness box so there is no intimidation in the courtroom. There is also a place for the audience on risers, so that the people are above the justices.

I can’t help but compare this courtroom to the Supreme Court. The Justices all sit above anyone else, reminding the they are the all knowing and the final word. The cases are also not open to the public as the South African Constitutional court is. There is even a posting get outside the courtroom that anyone can read that says what the cases are for that day.

I am trying to imagine what it would be like if our judicial system was set up like South Africa’s. I feel like more people would be involved in the Court’s decisions. Constitutional Hill is so accessible to the public, where the Supreme Court is closed off. Having an transparent relationship with the judicial system would create a lot more trust, and I feel that people need that. We can strive to be more like South Africa’s judicial system.

Women’s Jail: A Painful Past but Resilient Future by Kortney Ondayko

Women’s Jail: A Painful Past but Resilient Future
Friday, we visited the Women’s Jail located on Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg. It started in a rush as we were running late & had little time to tour both the Number Four prison, the Women’s Jail & the Constitutional Court. Though we hustled into the jail- turned-museum, our pace abruptly slowed as the reality of the space hit us.

The Women’s Jail is a very powerful & symbolic place as the museum is full of former inmates stories, experiences & memories that recount the oppressive policies of apartheid. It serves as a re-collection of the memories and experiences of the women who spent time there – it serves as a place to better understand the past, to read the truth, to seek justice but also to influence the future.

To read these women’s stories as if they were there standing with you, narrating their experiences, was haunting but empowering. It was haunting because you are standing in the exact place that these experiences of discrimination, inhumane and unjust treatment took place. You read the stories and imagine it happening right next to you & at that moment you feel helpless. But, at the same time, you feel empowered by reading their stories. You feel empowered that eventually, these women were able to tell their stories. That their stories are taken seriously.

Even at the most intense & somber point of the Jail, the Wash Room, I was inspired and given hope for the human rights of South African women. The Washing Room is a big open space with no roof- where wardresses would strip down inmates and violently search them for hidden objects among other degrading events. However, as I walked out of the Wash room, while struggling to comprehend the realities of where I was, I ran into a group of women. They were dressed up and walking with purpose into a room with a white piece of paper next to the door labeled: Women’s Liberation Dialogue. It appeared to be a conference or meeting of some sort where women gathered to discuss the needs, wants and status of their liberation. I was struck by the resilience of these South African women. They are being activist and fighting oppression in the very walls that oppressed them just 30 years ago.

I think I can speak for the group, when I say, that even though we had limited time in the Women’s Jail the experience was powerful & taught us about both the past and current situation of women in South Africa.