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WWhile reading about history is a great way to learn about our past, walking the path of history brings the information to life.  When you enter the Palace of Justice you hear the ghosts and echoes of a turbulent past which allows you to understand where we have come from and where we are headed.  

Facing the northern façade of Church Square in Pretoria, Palace of Justice tells a remarkable story of an unswerving anti-apartheid movement, the birth of the Freedom Charter as well as one of the world’s iconic speeches to date.

Did You Know?
PPalace of Justice was refurbished to the tune of R30m in 2014.

IIn this courtroom, you will :

  1. Plead (guilty of getting goosebumps after seeing the dock where Madiba declared: ‘I am prepared to die’)


More than fifty years ago, Nelson Mandela gave one of the most impassioned speeches of the 20th century while standing in the dock and staring at death in the face during the Rivonia trial.

Aware that his fate could potentially lead him to the gallows where he would be hanged for treason, the unwavering political leader asserted he was prepared to die for the ideal of a democratic South Africa.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people," he told the supreme court at the turreted Palace of Justice.

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Palace of Justice

When to visit
How to get here
  1. Directly examine (messages left by anti-apartheid revolutionaries)

Fourteen steps below the famous dock and in the bowels of Palace of Justice is an austere corridor leading to the holding cells where Madiba and his fellow accused were detained.

Chief among them is a 5m x 7m room with a bare concrete floor, one narrow barred window, a wide ventilation shaft against one wall, and a heavy door with a turn handle and peephole.

Coated in graffiti by generations of political prisoners, the musty, peeling walls bear messages of protest as well as the preamble to the Freedom Charter – a set of principles which laid the basis of the democratic dispensation that South Africans enjoy today.

"There comes a time in the life of any nation where only two choices remain - whether to submit or fight," reads one of the messages.

"My dream is to be free, one love."

Next to a drawing of a hangman's noose is a vehement proclamation: "Detention or no detention, imprisonment or no imprisonment, death or no death, the struggle shall continue to revindicate the right of our people. Mayibuye I Africa. Amandla."

Less prophetic writings also made it to the walls of history.

"Arnold was here," reads one of the vague messages, while another shows support to a white supremacist group, "The AWB (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) shall govern.”

In addition to the messages left behind, the walls carry a list of prisoners who have come through the spartan cell, including Tokyo Sexwale, Mosiuoa Lekota and Saths Cooper.

  1. Subpoena (a rich past)

Dating back to 1897, it’s no surprise the Palace of Justice is trove of South Africa’s colourful past.

Four years after then-President of the Transvaal Republic Paul Kruger laid the foundation stone, the palace – worth £115 260 – was open for business.

However, shortly before it was taken into use as the Transvaal Supreme Court, the incomplete palace was taken over by military authorities and turned into a hospital (known as Irish Hospital) for British troops during the Anglo-Boer (South African) War.

Since then, the building has played to many historically significant trials.

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  1. Confess (to falling in love with 19th century architecture)

Designed by Dutch architect Sytze Wierda and built by John Munro, the palace – which stands on two erven (stands) - is a monument to colonial opulence with an eclectic Wilhelmiens style and Italianate influences.

The quaint interior boasts British floor tiles, a Dutch stained-glass ceiling, ornate sconce lamps, carved dark wood dais for the judge and a jury box with red leather seats that have been vacant since the South African jury system was abolished in 1969.

  1. Witness (the centre of South Africa’s legal fraternity today)

Today, Palace of Justice is used as the headquarters of the Gauteng High Court.

At the forefront of legal transformation and excellence, the Gauteng High Court has hosted a number of epoch-making cases, such as Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, the ruling of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as well as a scathing judgment against former president Jacob Zuma.

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