PoliticsNews & AnalysisApartheid prison becomes a historic site


Posted on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 16:50

Apartheid prison becomes a historic site

By Crystal Van Wyk

During the dark apartheid days, Pretoria's Central Prison was a place families and members of the then banned ANC avoided at all costs. It was a place where combatants who were found guilty of terrorism were sent to die.

The refurbished gallows at Pretoria Central Prison have been out of use since 1989/Photo/ReutersThis week, hundreds of families of mostly political prisoners who were executed in the 1960's were allowed to visit the once feared prison.

The gallows were dismantled in 1996 after the Constitutional Court abolished the death penalty.  The refurbished gallows at Pretoria Central Prison have been out of use since 1989, the year of South Africa's last execution.

This week, more than 200 family members were allowed to visit the brutal site to try and make peace with the past.

South Africa has since the demise of apartheid in 1994 been hard at work to reconcile and make peace with its brutal past.

Correctional Services Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, ordered that the gallows be restored and opened to the public to preserve its history. And according to the orrectional services, the Gallows Memorialisation Project is government's "attempt to bring closure to the families of struggle cadres".

Prison authorities say at least 4 300 prisoners were executed. It is estimated that at least 130 political prisoners were executed there. Among them were Umkhonto we Sizwe cadre, Solomon Mahlangu, who was hanged on April 9 1979.

Mahlangu's death sentence sparked an international outcry, but even that was not enough to convince the apartheid government to spare his life.

Mahlangu's brother, Lucas, said he was happy that the site is being turned into a museum.

Several ANC veterans and member of its military wing, Umkhonto WeSizwe also welcomed the refurbishment and conversion into a museum of the gallows at Pretoria Central Prison.

Family members were also be given the opportunity to perform cleansing ceremonies and were taken to the grave sites of their loved ones. The Department of Correctional Services said the names of all 4 300 inmates will be engraved on plaques and displayed at the gallows.

There will also be murals and pictorials telling stories of what happened.

The project will be launched in Pretoria later this week at the notorious CMAX Prison, where the place of hanging will be converted to a national heritage site. President Jacob Zuma will officially open the museum, which will be called the Gallows Memorial.

On Friday, South Africa commemorates National Reconciliation and Armed Forces Day. Prior to the end of apartheid 16 December was celebrated largely by Afrikaners as The Day of the Vow, a public holiday commemorating the Voortrekker victory over a Zulu army during the Battle of Blood River in 1838.

According to the Reconciliation Barometer, a survey conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, about seven in ten of South Africans feel they are ready to forget about the past and move on with their lives.

However, others still feel that moving forward as a country without addressing the lasting trauma and consequences left by apartheid would be a mistake

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 17:12

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