Gallery: Constitutional Court

The Constitution Hill precinct, located just west of Hillbrow in Johannesburg, is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the highest court in the country in terms of matters relating to the Constitution. 

The Constitutional Court building on Constitution Hill in the Johannesburg inner city is now 10 years old. (Image: South African History Online)

Formerly a fort and then a notorious prison, the precinct is full of history and it’s fitting that a light, airy and altogether public court now resides on the premises.The theme of the precinct in “justice under a tree” and refers to the age-old African practice of people gathering under a tree to discuss important matters. This theme is carried through the building in a number of different ways.

Click on a thumbnail for a low-resolution image, or right-click on the link below it to download a high-resolution copy of the image.

Constitutional Court main building

The building which houses the judges’ chambers, the courtroom, the law library and the art gallery.

• Download high-resolution image

Constitutional Court main building

As with the front of the building, the words “Constitutional Court” in all eleven official languaes can be seen on the side.

• Download high-resolution image

Great African steps

The Angry Godzilla, a three-metre-high statue carved from a single leadwood tree by artist John Baloyi, stands guard at the northern end of the court building.

• Download high-resolution image

Great African steps

The Great African Steps lead up to Constitution Square and the entrance to the main building.

• Download high-resolution image

Constitution Square

Constitution Square was built on the site of the old awaiting trial block, which dates back to 1928.

• Download high-resolution image

Constitution Square

Three of the staircases from the awaiting trial block have been preserved. Bricks from the building were preserved and used to build the courtroom and the Great African Steps.

• Download high-resolution image

All eleven official languages

The words “Constitutional Court” in all eleven official languages.

• Download high-resolution image

History by Dumile Feni

“History” by the late Dumile Feni is often mistaken for a slavery statement, but the artwork actually depicts people moving forward by carrying each other.

• Download high-resolution image

Eternal flame of democracy

The eternal flame of democracy burns in one of the old awaiting trial stairwells.

• Download high-resolution image

Eternal flame of democracy

The word “freedom” is inscribed on the bowl’s rim. Before it arrived in Johannesburg, the flame was lit in 2011 by former president Nelson Mandela at his Eastern Cape home, and the flame passed through the hands of all the judges before it touched the bowl.

• Download high-resolution image

Doors to court building

The doors to the court building feature the 27 fundamental themes of the Bill of Rights in all official languages, plus sign language.

• Download high-resolution image

Doors to court building

The magnificent doors stand nine metres high, and are a work of art in their own right.

• Download high-resolution image

Nine-metre high doors

High above the doors, each of the judges presiding when the building was constructed inscribed the words equality, dignity and freedom in their mother tongue into the concrete.

• Download high-resolution image

Justice under a tree

The foyer continues the theme of “justice under a tree” and is built to resemble a stand of trees where people would traditionally gather to discuss problems.

• Download high-resolution image

Justice under a tree

The foyer is airy and welcoming, with tall tree-like pillars and delicate silver wire chandeliers, designed to look like the leaves of the forest canopy.

• Download high-resolution image

Justice under a tree

The phrase “A luta continua” (Portuguese, meaning “the struggle continues”) is written in neon on the wall. It refers to the ongoing process of transformation, but was also the rallying cry of the Mozambican Frelimo freedom movement in the 1960s and 70s.

• Download high-resolution image

Justice under a tree

The foyer is designed to make the most of natural light, and gives a welcoming feeling to those who enter.

• Download high-resolution image

Constitutional Court

Inside the courtroom, which is always open to the public, the judges’ seats are covered with hide from the hardy indigenous Nguni cows – each one is different, symbolising the different characteristics that each judge brings to the bench.

• Download high-resolution image

Constitutional Court

 The panels in front of the window, as well as the South African flag, were made by hand. The flag is beaded and was crafted by unemployed women from a rural beadwork workshop. The panels symbolise clouds in the sky, and their theme is echoed in the carpet, which looks like the shadows of clouds on the ground.

• Download high-resolution image

Art gallery

The digitally-woven tapestry is by Marlene Dumas, one of the country’s most distinguished artists. Titled The Benefit of the Doubt 2, its themes are law, justice, innocence and freedom.

• Download high-resolution image

Justice under a tree

Justice under a tree – the symbol of the Constitutional Court at the entrance to the courtroom.

• Download high-resolution image

Art gallery

While the art gallery houses many fine pieces, one could also argue that the entire building is a work of art.

• Download high-resolution image

Art gallery

The bulk of the collection was assembled by former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs, over a ten-year period.

• Download high-resolution image

Square brass nosings The square brass nosings on the steps leading down to the judges’ chambers were designed by Jabu Nala, a resident of the high-density suburb Hillbrow in Johannesburg, using patterns of traditional beer pots.

• Download high-resolution image

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.