The Making of Constitution Hill

Number four: The Making of Constitution Hill

written and edited by Lauren Segal, Karen Martin, Sharon Cort

(Penguin Books)

Researchers who were first enlisted by Johannesburg’s innovative Ochre Media to conceptualise Constitution Hill’s public spaces, and draft histories and programmes for them, have now put the whole saga under one cover. Number Four: The Making of Constitution Hill (Penguin) is quite clearly a souvenir, and will be sold to visitors who make the journey to the courthouse and its historical surrounds. But there’s more to it, for the process of reconstructing Paul Kruger’s Old Fort, the Women’s Prison and Number Four awaiting-trial block involved the efforts of hundreds of dedicated workers from many fields.
They too will get their copy for sure. The book begins with a revised history of the site devoting pictorial spreads with minimum text to each location. Interestingly, this pre-democracy aspect—which has so much texture—is downplayed save for some shocking first-hand accounts of the punishments meted out to past inmates. At about page 50 of the 245-page tome, in 1983 the prison is deserted and the real journey begins. From here the voices that emerge are somewhat official—town planners, judges and political leaders. And then the narrative shifts to the Constitutional Court. This emphasis on the mainstream doesn’t, however, entirely sideline the ordinary and, at intervals we are given sound bites by lesser beings, such as artists—there are even sections in which Hillbrow residents and past prisoners are allowed to respond to the regeneration that has taken place. Most of all, though, Number Four is a picture book—immaculately researched and tastefully laid out with design supervision by artist/curator Clive van den Berg. A small monument honouring the monumental.

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse

Matthew Krouse is the arts editor of the Mail & Guardian, a position he has held since 1999. He has edited two anthologies: Positions (Steidl, Jacana Media 2010) about artists engaging with politics in South Africa today, and The Invisible Ghetto (GMP, 1994) a compilation of creative writing about gender. His essays have appeared in collected works about arts and culture here and abroad. He has worked in the theatre for over a decade as an actor, writer and senior publicist at the Market Theatre. Read more from Matthew Krouse

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