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PPretoria Central is unmistakable as it sits on the outskirts of the city, like a constant lingering reminder of South Africa’s darker years.
Now known as Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre, the very rich history of Pretoria Central dates back to 1902 and after more than 100 years, its doors are still open to local visitors, travellers and prisoners.
For many years Pretoria Central was not only the first place that political prisoners were brought to, but often the last as well. Over the apartheid years a staggering 135 purely political prisoners were hung there for perceived crimes.
The gallows is now a museum in honour of the lives that were taken away there. The prisoner’s names are on the walls, and the ropes have been rehung over the painted wooden trap door. Tours take you up the 52 steps which the prisoners had to climb in order to reach the hanging platform, each one numbered so that you can get a feel for exactly what their last moments were like.
AA hard locked correctional centre
The rest of the prison is still a functioning correctional centre. There is a C Max section for dangerous criminals, and has had a number of highly volatile people pass through it over the years. Up until his release, C-Max was the home of “Prime Evil”, the apartheid killer cop Eugene de Kock. It can hold between 300 and 500 inmates, although currently it is closed for renovations.
Pretoria Central Prison
TThe woman’s section is used to house all sorts of female inmates, from the dangerous ones who have allegedly killed other people, to prisoners on remand. It is one of the largest women’s prisons in the country.
A Madiba experience
When Nelson Mandela was initially arrested for leaving the country without a passport, he was taken to Pretoria Central Prison to await trial. From there he was sentenced to five years and transferred to Robben Island. A while later, however, he was transferred back to Pretoria Central and tried again at the Rivonia Treason Trial, where he and his counterparts were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was then transferred back to Robben Island again to serve out his sentence.
AA ray of hope
To get to the museum you have to go through the prison itself, which gives you a relatively good idea of what it is like to spend time behind bars there. All in all, a visits to the prison will not only give you a rather dark view into our countries past, but also a ray of hope for how far we have come, and how we are growing with each day. The tour is not a long one, and coming out into the sunshine after the grisly history inside is sure to lift anyone’s spirits.
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