Text by Tinashe Wakapila
Photos by Lindeka Qampi/ Inkanyiso
Despite the fact that the place was a prison, race was a key factor that led to a lot of mistreatment and human dignity strip down due to the form of punishment dished out at the Old Fort Prison Complex situated at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, South Africa, known as Number Four.
The lavatory systems at Number four prison, known today as Constitution Hill, led to the out break of diseases such as typhoid, malaria to name a few. Black was a race consisting of Africans, Indians and bi-racial communities. They did hard manual labour, received poor food services and hard-core punishment when found to have broken the rules in jail. Their daily meal plan had the same nutrients everyday and the conditions were harsh for them.
There were 3 types of “criminals” incarcerated at the prison, Political lawbreakers, Common Law breakers and Criminal Law breakers; they were kept in cells based on the law they broke. Apart from these three main jail cells, there was also a cell for the resilient and resisting, it was called isolation. It was used to break their spirit or make them give in and stop certain activities including activism, which was directed against unfair laws. Isolation section was a danger to prisoner’s health. It is situated at a steep position of the old fort, when it rained water came down their cell sometimes with sewage water after a heavy downpour. Walls damaged by water penetration can still be seen in the area where the water would rise up to inside the isolation cells.
Not speaking to anyone and receiving a non-balanced meal led to sicknesses and death. Prisoners were psychologically tortured by having lights switched on the whole night and off during the day in the dark cell making them loose orientation and time frame. Human dignity was also denied to prisoners when they were stripped naked and searched in front of old and young people, having objects shoved inside their anal opening to see if they had hidden anything.
The bathing arena was just a line of showers and no closure for privacy, all this and a lot other ways of mistreatment was directed towards the inmates due to the racist apartheid laws applied to black inmates. Freedom fighters went through all of this fighting for what we have today as Queer ”Born Frees’.
Question is, what are we doing to withhold our pride and dignity that our freedom fighters went through?
That was my 1st Yithi Laba Conference eye opener hosted by Inkanyiso.
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