Landmark projects

Our Struggle, Our Freedom, Our Constitution - AN ONLINE EXHIBITION

The South African Constitution is the foundation of our democracy. It provides a bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy, social justice and development opportunities for all. It is a roadmap for how our country is governed and defines our collective dreams and aspirations.

Despite the importance of our Constitution, few know the long history of our country’s struggle for human rights and what was at stake during the tumultuous years of the negotiations. Although the Constitution is now part of our daily lives, we are unaware of how the final Constitution was written and that it took years of struggle, sacrifice, vision, and combined intelligence to complete it.

Though huge breakthroughs have been made, our country still has massive inequality. It suffers from racism, sexism, crime, unemployment and corruption. On its own, the Constitution does not provide food, build homes and places of learning, provide land, or equal economic opportunities. It does give us the vision, rights, and instruments to deal with these issues.  

Our Struggle, Our Freedom, Our Constitution documents, preserves, and shares the known and unknown stories of the creation of the South African Constitution and its guardian – the Constitutional Court – so that we can know and understand our past to secure a better future.

As a virtual space and touchpoint for the local and global publics, a series of online exhibitions provide a central communication and knowledge portal for: 

  • sharing basic information
  • educational experiences and downloadable apps
  • social media functionality
  • multi-format primary source content from the growing archive
Two of the illustrations for the Bill of Rights sections of the website. Sindiso Nyoni

Funds were raised from:

  • The Mott Foundation
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • The RAITH Foundation

A digital archive of the South African constitution-making process

As part of creating an online presence, the Trust raised a substantial grant which has allowed it to digitise the archive of the constitution-making process and making it accessible.

Museums and Archives at the Constitution on the Hill (MARCH) staff and student volunteers review Constitutional Assembly records at the NARSSA, September 2018. The team went through 288 boxes over five days.

The following seminal collections have been digitised and some will be available on our online platform from September 2020 onwards:

  • The Convention for a Democratic South Africa and the Multi Party Negotiating Process documents which detail the processes followed at the World Trade Centre building near Johannesburg from November 1991 until 1994
  • The Transitional Executive Council papers documenting the arrangements of the transitional authorities which governed during the transition and oversaw the first democratic elections
  • The Independent Electoral Commission collection documenting the first democratic elections
  • The papers of the Constitutional Assembly (CA) which show how the newly-elected democratic Parliament constituted itself as a CA and how it drafted the final Constitution in two years from 1994 to 1996
  • The collections documenting the two Certification cases in the then newly created Constitutional Court which was given the task of certifying that the 34 Principles in the Interim Constitution had been duly complied with
  • The Albie Sachs Collection from the Mayibuye Archive
  • The Hassen Ebrahim Collection of the constitutional-making process

In addition to digitising these collections, the Trust has launched a ‘Memories and Memorabilia’ Campaign to invite South Africans and others to contribute their stories and objects such as  photos, family heirlooms, letters, memorabilia, etc. related to the constitution-making process. In this way, a new archive will be created from ordinary people’s experiences.

Funds were raised from:

  • The Mott Foundation
  • The RAITH Foundation

Museums and Archives of the Constitution at the Hill (MARCH)

The aim of the Trust, in collaboration with the Constitution Hill Development Company, is to contribute to the preservation and development of the heritage components of Constitution Hill. They include the Number 4 Prison, the Woman’s Jail, the Old Fort Prison, and significant relics of the Awaiting Trial Block – one of which includes the Flame of Democracy. Taken together, these components constitute MARCH.  

Towards this end the Trust has created an online exhibition and archive that tell the known and unknown stories of the making and working of the Constitution called Our Struggle, Our Freedom, Our Constitution. A physical exhibition of the same title will form the focal point of MARCH and will be housed in the soon-to-be-built Visitor Centre at Constitution Hill. The Centre will stand at a prominent and symbolic place on Constitution Square – directly opposite the Constitutional Court. The Visitor Centre is due to be completed in 2021.

The Trust will be responsible for preserving, developing, and creating the intellectual content for the MARCH. In so doing, it will collaborate with other organisations such as the Albie Sachs Trust for Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law (ASCaRoL), the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), and the South Africa Heritage Archives (SAHA).  

  • MARCH will tell the remarkable story of the making of the Constitution from the point of view of South Africans from all walks of life. In particular, it will reveal the deep African roots of our constitutional democracy through the hitherto suppressed voices of black intellectuals, workers, and women.
  • MARCH will promote the Constitution as a monumental historical achievement, as well as a vital living instrument that reflects, shapes, and gives direction to our society today.
  • MARCH will provide interactive, engaging and innovative educational material that its primary audience, young African children, can immerse themselves in for an elevating  and educational experience while having fun.

Special seminars, visiting scholar programmes, advocacy for access to information, tailormade school visits, and other programmes will ensure constant engagement with the exhibition and archive so that it becomes an active source of archival collections and a site of contestation and debate.

Ribbon cutting ceremony to launch MARCH (March 2018) and stakeholder workshop at Constitution Hill (May 2018)

Funds were raised from:

  • The Mott Foundation
  • The Kresge Foundation
  • The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Educational workshops

Since its inception, the Trust has hosted biannual dinners to raise corporate sponsorship for its work. Over R7 million has been raised this way and has been used primarily to bring more than 100 000 learners from underprivileged schools to visit Constitution Hill. Once on-site, the learners participate in programmes that focus on understanding South Africa’s transition to democracy and the importance of our Constitution as our guarantor of human rights.

WikiAfrica Education and Afrocuration

WikiAfrica Education is a programme by the Moleskine Foundation which aims to amplify voices from Africa that reflect the continent’s rich and valuable history, languages and people. It seeks to address the fact that there are 100 times more articles about Paris on Wikipedia than the whole of the African continent.  It encourages young people to produce history by themselves in their own languages. In this way, WikiAfrica Education aims to transform young people from knowledge consumers to knowledge producers for one of the world’s biggest online platforms – Wikipedia. 

On 5 October 2019, the Trust – in collaboration with the Moleskine Foundation – raised funds to support the WikiAfrica Education programme through an Afrocuration event at Constitution Hill. A hundred participants, made up of teachers and learners, immersed themselves in a creative, cultural, and education event. Addresses by Justice Edwin Cameron, Joyce Seroke, Leon Wessels, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza related to the themes of democracy, freedom, and constitution-making  were featured. 

The learners then spent time editing Wikipedia to add to the online South African narrative in its official languages. They created 130 Wikipedia articles, across six indigenous languages. These articles were viewed more than 40 000 times in the two weeks following the event.

Students and teachers at Constitution Hill participating in Afrocuration. (October 2019)

The second Afrocuration event on 29 December 2019 was part of the Afropunk Festival at Constitution Hill. Sixty young people volunteered to participate in the event to earn a ticket to the festival. Chosen in light of gender inequality and violence in South Africa, the theme was to write black women into history. It was also chosen in response to a deep area of under-representation in the cultural movement.

The participants had a memorable day learning about – and writing profiles of – less prominent women in South African history, such as Ruth Mompati and Madie Hall Xuma.

“I got to learn about South African heroes, and that’s part of a culture I think as the youth we need to adopt to learn about our history and culture and the people that took part in building the world we live in today.”
Afrocuration participant 2019

Funds were raised from:

  • Barloworld
  • Bridge
  • Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator
  • Nando’s
  • Afrika Tikkun
  • Fondazione Aurora

Fundraising for beneficiaries

The Trust has also channelled raised funds to several non-governmental organisations working on constitutional issues. The South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, as well as the South African History Archive have received the most funding to date.

The 15th anniversary of the Constitution

In 2011, the Trust raised a special grant for a celebration in honour of the 15th anniversary of the Constitution.

Chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly, Cyril Ramaphosa, holding up the final Constitution. Adil Bradlow

The signing of the final draft of the new South African Constitution was held on 10 December 1996 at a stadium in the township of Sharpeville. The photograph shows a jubilant then Chair of the Constitutional Assembly, Cyril Ramaphosa, holding the newly signed Constitution aloft with then President Nelson Mandela at his side.

In celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Constitution on 10 December 2011, the Trust developed several important and exciting initiatives to celebrate this milestone.

The book: One Law, One Nation

Using archival material from partners such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa, the Trust published One Law, One Nation. It documents the history of the struggle for constitutional rights in South Africa, and the complexity of, and obstacles to, the constitution-making process after 1990. Using archival photographs and interview material hitherto unseen, the book tells the story of South Africa’s remarkable Constitution. It even has Nelson Mandela’s handwritten notes from the negotiation process.

Many books have shed light on the legal aspects of the Constitution. Few have offered first-hand perspectives of the hidden history of its development. One Law, One Nation also reflects on the Constitution as a living document, and how the Constitutional Court plays an instrumental role in ensuring that the human rights enshrined in it are upheld in South Africa’s democracy.

Its publisher, Jacana Media, described the book as “an inspiring and moving book, a gift to South Africa”.

The exhibition

The Trust also mounted an exhibition in the foyer of the Constitutional Court in honour of the 15th anniversary celebrations. For the first time, each of South Africa’s five Constitutions, racist and democratic, were on view. Seen together, they graphically illustrated the country’s journey from colonisation and apartheid to democracy. The final signed copy of the 1996 Constitution, which had never before been on display, took pride of place directly outside the Constitutional Court chamber.

The three maces used in Parliament to signify that the House of Assembly was formally in session and that the proceedings were official, were also on display. These beautifully carved gold rods graphically represented South Africa’s history and traditions, with the final People’s Mace of 2005 being truly inclusive of all South Africans for the first time.

The second part of the exhibition, mounted in the Constitutional Court’s gallery space, led the viewer along 15 steps in the story of the making of the Constitution. Artworks were juxtaposed with documentary archives to represent important moments in our history that culminated in the enshrinement of human dignity, equality and freedom in our society today.

The artworks ranged from striking photographs to paintings and embroidery and were drawn from different communities across the country. There were paintings that Gerard Sekoto painted in exile and that represented the Sharpeville massacre; a Gavin Jantjes collage represented life under apartheid; a Willie Bester piece made out of fragments left behind on the site of the 1992 Bisho massacre; and the Keiskamma Tapestry weaved the story of freedom in South Africa since 1994. 

Many of the documents – such as the letter of protest against the 1910 Constitution and the African National Congress’s 1923 Bill of Rights – had seldom been seen. They shed new light on the history of the country.

The exhibition was housed in the Constitutional Court building for four months and parts of it are now a permanent feature in the Women’s Jail.

The Flame of Democracy

As part of the 15th anniversary celebrations, the Trust installed the perpetual Flame of Democracy to symbolise the enduring commitment of South Africans to democracy and constitutionalism.

The flame was ignited by Nelson Mandela. Trustees flew to his hometown Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where the former President lit a paraffin lamp that was brought back to Johannesburg. On 10 December 2011, then Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and then Chief Justice Moegeng Moegeng used the lamp to light the Flame of Democracy in front of a gathering of dignitaries and corporate sponsors, as well as many of those who were intimately involved in the writing of the final Constitution.

The flame, in its beautifully crafted copper bowl, now stands in one of the four remaining stairwells of what was once the precinct’s awaiting-trial block, directly opposite the carved wooden doors of the Constitutional Court building. This symbolic placement inside the arched entrance alcove draws focus to the threshold between incarceration that was once part and parcel of life under apartheid, and the hard-won freedoms that are the foundation of South African life today.

A beam of light, projected into the Johannesburg night sky as a visible reminder of our democracy, was switched on for the first time during the anniversary celebrations.

The flame has become an iconic tourist attraction at Constitution Hill and many important groups have been photographed in front of it.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994