Prison Museums

Pretoria Central Prison

Is this the most ghoulish tourist attraction in the world? Gallows where 3,500 were hanged declared a national monument in South Africa

It's important that other South Africans see the gallows the government opened as a monument today.
Solomon only thought of freedom, to free the black man. He never thought of himself, only about seeing the black man free.
Death row was in a low, brick building with imposing oak doors just outside the main block of Pretoria Central Prison. The gallows were abandoned after the death penalty was abolished in 1995.
Today, a sign on a freshly-painted wall along a hallway leading to the gallows told visitors some 3,500 South Africans were hanged over the last century. 'Of these,' it said, '130 were patriots whose only crime was fighting oppression.'
Not all those hanged were executed in Pretoria, but many of the most prominent were.
Solomon Mahlangu was among the class of 1976, young South Africans radicalised by a student uprising in Soweto that year that was met by a brutal police crackdown. He was 20 when he left South Africa to train in Mozambique and Angola with Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, which celebrates its 50th anniversary tomorrow.
One of Solomon Mahlangu's trio got away. Another, the only one accused of firing a gun, was so badly beaten in custody he was judged unfit to stand trial. Prosecutors did not dispute that Solomon Mahlangu never fired a gun, but he was convicted of sharing his comrade's deadly purpose.
He was hanged on April 6, 1979. The next day, his mother was brought to Pretoria Central and shown her son's plain wooden coffin. She remembers thinking it looked very small.
The gallows was destroyed in a smelter after the death penalty was abolished. Visitors to the site will see a replica: Seven nooses dangling from iron loops over a trap door.
A prison employee who said he had been a death row guard helped ensure the new museum's details are correct, down to the thickness of the ropes.
The guard said the political prisoners were disciplined, never struggling, sometimes singing anti-apartheid songs as they climbed the stairs.
David Kutumela, a 56-year-old anti-apartheid activist who like Solomon Mahlangu began his fight after the 1976 uprisings, helped campaign to create the gallows memorial. He and other activists visited the gallows often as it was transformed into a museum.



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