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You are here: Home >> Blog >> Marie Fortune's Blogs >> “My Heart Is So Sore . . .” - Part 2

“My Heart Is So Sore . . .” - Part 2

Dec 10, 2010 — Categories:

On a hill in Johannesburg is the Constitutional Court, the home of South Africa's highest court. This site was previously a prison complex that held politcal prisoners during apartheid. One prison held women—both women of color and white women, separately of course. Winnie Mandela, Alberta Sisulu, Barbara Hogan and many others were there. My heart is so sore as we tour the prison.

On a hill in Johannesburg is the Constitutional Court, the home of South Africa's highest court. This site was previously a prison complex that held politcal prisoners during apartheid. One prison held women—both women of color and white women, separately of course. Winnie Mandela, Alberta Sisulu, Barbara Hogan and many others were there.

My heart is so sore as we tour the prison and watch the women’s testimonies on screens. When they first arrived, they were taken into the yard and told to strip naked. Then they were forced to dance around the yard for the “pleasure” of the male guards in the towers. They were tortured with electricity. There were too many women so the facility was overcrowded. The women of color were housed in the outdoor yard in tin sheds: four women in a shed 5’ x 10’, twenty-three hours a day with one hour outside. No heat in winter, no windows in summer. And the lights were always on.

The white women were kept separately in cells 12’ x 20’ probably for four women. They were locked up for the same twenty-three hours a day, though they had beds to sleep on. And windows.

There were male prisoners in other parts of the complex. And as the struggle continued, these prisons became more and more crowded.

Today, the site is known as Constitutional Hill. Some of the prison buildings have been torn down, but portions remain as reminders of the dark days of apartheid. The Court is housed in a new building with many of its walls made from the bricks of the old prison. The art in the building foyer is that of tree trunks and leaves. The building design is an architectural metaphor for trees under which African villagers traditionally resolved their legal disputes. This was the first place of justice.

Inside the eleven justices sit behind the long table covered in the hide of black and white cows to remind the people that black and white are equal here. There are windows all around to ensure transparency: no more secret courts. The court is open. Anyone can come to sit and watch the proceedings.

This is the highest court that considers constitutional questions. The Constitution itself is remarkable. A Bill of Rights that lists twenty-seven rights: freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion. The right to be free from violence at home or in the community. Rights as victims in the legal system.

This document clearly was written to protect the people from abuse or exploitation by those with power. They are very proud of the Constitution AND say frequently that their rights must not be just on paper.

Visiting the court is seeing the old horrors of oppression transformed literally into justice and freedom. It is possible for all things to be made new.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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Gratitude

Posted by Lynda Cock at Dec 16, 2010 01:27 PM
Marie, we are much grateful for the work you are doing in bringing the history of this situation closer to us. Blessings on the healing work you must be doing as you listen to the stories.

Yes, we continue to pray that we may be instrumental in making all things new.

With care for your bold steps, Lynda