Gandhi, born in India in 1869, first traveled to South Africa thirty years later to work for two years with the Ambulance Corps during the Anglo-Boer War as he was concerned about the conditions of the Indian stretcher carriers. After returning to his homeland for a year, he opened up a law practice in Joburg in 1903.
Replicas from the life of Nelson Mandela:
Mandela wrote that 'Difficulties break some men but make others. No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.'
Gandhi wrote that 'an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.'
Another of his famous sayings was 'Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.'
According to Gandhi, 'Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.'
Prisoners organized themselves into gangs and set up a rigid hierarchy that dictated life in the prison. The men slept according to their status in the gang.
Prema, a political prisoner at Number Four in 1982, described how, after arriving at the jail, prisoners didn't have a shower for three or four months. 'Because of interaction with our lawyers, tackling the authorities, threatening them with an interdict, they allowed us out to shower. It was cold water, but at least it was a shower. It was quite a relief. Then we were able to shower once a week.'
Blanket Sculptures: Every Sunday, prison officials carried out inspections of the communal cells in Number Four. The blanket sculptures in the cell below - couches, flowers, stools and tanks - were typical of the objects that prisoners made for these Sunday 'parades.' Prisoners with the most creatively decorated cell would win privileges for a week, such as cake or an extra slice of bread each day.
Blankets were also used for recreation - as boards for games with toilet paper markers and lines drawn with soap.
Prisoners also passed time by carving soap with spoons or small pieces of wood from trees. They created paper-mache sculptures by shredding pieces of paper and mixing them with soft sop-sop (blue soap that was mixed with water).
An example of prisoner graffiti still remaining on the back of each cell door:
Punishment: Over the decades, the prison authorities used various means to enforce power and inflict punishment on the prisoners. In
the early 1900s, prisoners who contravened prison rules and regulations received solitary confinement for up to 7 days, up to 25 lashes or hard labor for up to 21 days. In addition, prisoners were ordered to wear leg irons for indefinite periods. Later on, punishments and beatings were more arbitrary and became a constant fixture of prison life. Prisoners had few options to complain if they were assaulted or punished.
Isolation Cells: As with the men's prison, isolation was the most extreme form of punishment in the Women's Jail. Sentenced prisoners were often kept here for longer than the three days as ordered by the law. Sadly, some prisoners asked to be kept in the solitary cells to avoid unwelcome sexual attention from their cell bosses.
Nomsa, imprisoned in 1976 and 1977 for not carrying the pass required of blacks and 'coloreds', said the cell 'was dark and there was nothing, just a bucket to wee in. It was a small space to stuff someone in who was just naughty.'
Princess Nomakhosazana, a black warder in 1982, said prisoners received three days in the isolation cells with only rice water after smuggling, fighting, speaking to males, etc. But, since the punishment book was written in Afrikaans, a language the warders din't understand, they didn't know all the punishments.
Another female warder said because the prisoners despised coming to the isolation cells, they fought the warders who resorted to force with the baton if prisoners wouldn't listen.
Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela's first wife and a political activist in her own right, was imprisoned in the Fort for the first time in 1958 when she was pregnant with their first child, a daughter. 'And I was visited by my children 18 years later in 1976 - the very daughter that I had been expecting when I was in that prison for the first time - in pursuit of the very same ideals.
Section One (Cell One): According to the information we read, this large cell held up to 70 black prisoners who slept under filthy, lice-infested blankets on thin grass mats. There were showers and toilets at the back of the cell but they were usually overcrowded and stinking. Though some of the prisoners were there for criminal offenses, the vast majority of inmates were women arrested for pass offenses or illegal occupations such as beer making.
Maggie, a political prisoner in 1959, wrote that 'the lights were kept on for the whole night. The blankets were the brown coarse ones, usually used for racehorses at the stables. No nighties were given to us, so we wore the same overalls day and night until changing day came, which was only when visitors like the inspector was coming.'
Another prisoner, Nolundi, a pass offender in 1980 and many other years, stated that if the prisoners had diarrhea because of 'the rubbish food we were eating, the toilet was right here (in the cell) and there was no toilet paper.' Sarah, a pass offender in 1981, said the prisoners only saw the sun in the afternoon when they fetched their food.
It was impossible to get a sense of what life had been like for the female prisoners in the cell because it had been totally 'sanitized' for lack of a better word and the former cell was covered with lots of posters. Posters supporting the liberation struggle in South Africa had been produced throughout the world to raise international awareness of apartheid. But in 1978, a group of exiled South Africans living across the border in Botswana, began to print posters for distribution inside South Africa in order to give a voice to the growing struggle of the people 'at home'.
Section Two (Cell Two): This large cell also held 70 prisoners, most of them held for criminal offenses but political prisoners were also kept in the same cells. The wardresses used the long-term prisoners to maintain order in the cell. These cell bosses used their power to demand favors from other prisoners.
Nomsa, a pass offender imprisoned in 1976 and 1977, talked about her experiences in the cell. 'Sis Gugu was a boss. She was fat like a man. She was in control. She would take your food. Sometimes she would tell you to take off her overalls. And then you had to wash it for her. You were her baby. If she didn't like you, you would scrub without soap. Even the matron would say and do nothing.'
Though much of the Women's Gaol dealt with the atrocious treatment the prisoners received, we still had a good sense of how so many of them contributed to the struggle against apartheid.
We retraced our steps through the Fort's main entrance to the Constitutional Court located by the Awaiting Trial Block where we had entered a couple of hours previously. The Court was established in 1994 with the birth of South African democracy.