The Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
From darkness into light
The Old Prison in Pietermaritzburg is a favourite tourist stop along the Freedom Route. The Museum is managed by Project Gateway, a church-based community charity organisation housed on the Old Prison grounds.
Dating back to Voortrekker times, the Old Prison carries over 150 years of history including the Colonial times, Apartheid, the Liberation Struggle, the Political Struggle and ultimately to the dawn of democratic South Africa in 1994. This official Heritage Site houses within its walls both a National Monument and a Museum, documenting South Africa’s diverse history.
Cell Block E was the first building erected on the site which was commissioned back in 1859 and opened in 1862. E-block is today one of the oldest buildings in Pietermaritzburg and has been declared a National Monument. The Old Prison has housed people of national and international renown including King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba and his son Manilal. More recent times saw local political figures and anti-apartheid activists such as Nelson Mandela, Harry Gwala, Moses Mabhida and A.S. Chetty also being held here.
Cell Blocks were originally built to house prisoners individually, but as inmate numbers increased, it became common for some cells to house between 10 or 12 prisoners at a time!
The cookhouse was constructed in 1872. A dining hall was never built. Instead, inmates experienced “open-air dining” in all weather in an area clearly marked with white lines between the chapel and the “white section”. 1934 saw the construction of the Execution Block which housed the gallows and high security cells. It was also the location of the “torture rooms” and where at a later stage, the “Whites Only” section and the hospital were built.
Tours at the Old Prison last about an hour and cover the prison facilities, prison life and the stories of some of the more prominent political prisoners who spent years of their life confined here, it links with and incorporates five main figureheads, that is, Alan Paton, John Langalibelele Dube, Albert Luthuli, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Funds raised from tours of the facilities as well as the onsite Old Prison Café support a number of community projects including a homeless shelter, business training, and HIV/AIDS education.
Things to see and do
- Guided Tours by appointment only
- Cell Block-E
- Gandhi Confinement Cell
- Colonial Exhibition
- Liberation & Apartheid Struggle Exhibits
- Execution Block
- Whites Only Section
- Old Prison Café
Tours are by prior arrangement only, booking is essential
Prices are subject to change, please confirm directly with the Museum
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