Potgieter Street Jail

 Pretoria Central Prison

With a permanent exhibition at this maximum security prison, the museum represents some of the history of the Department of Correctional Services – the buildings previously occupied by inmates and wardens, and the life and times of prisoners within the premises.

There’s just one small catch: you have to walk into the prison to get to the museum. Rest assured, you won’t be herded in with any inmates or mistaken for a prisoner (all full-time residents are obliged to wear bright orange overalls emblazoned with the Correctional Services logo).

Once you’ve made your way past sorry-looking relatives of those behind bars and moved into the museum space, it’s a fascinating part of provincial history that’s on display. Not the least of which is the tale of the prison building.


The first prison building in Tshwane, built by Alexander Anderson at the corner of Pretorius and Paul Kruger streets, has an appealing history. Anderson was a prisoner for all intents and purposes, and was sentenced to a year of hard labour by the provincial government.

He somehow managed to strike a deal with the state and bargained that should he build the prison in under an allocated time of 12 months, he would be pardoned.

He built a shoddy structure in record time that proved to be rather unstable. In response, a second structure was built in 1873 at the corner of Bosman and Visagie streets that included wardens’ houses and gallows for public executions.

Once again the structure proved to be less than adequate after several inmates escaped, and the commissioner of the prison services demanded an improved building.

But construction only took place in earnest after the Anglo-Boer War, when the company Prentice and Mackey started work on the present site in December 1904. The prison was finalised in 1907, and between 1912 and 1938 further construction took place, which included developing single cells for prisoners, as opposed to communal rooms, and installing electricity.

Today, there is the central correctional centre, as well as the female, maximum and local correctional centres. There are houses for the correctional officers, sport facilities, a mess and a shop.

Aside from prison history, the museum also displays various artworks created by prisoners over the years, including a creepy statue of an inmate crawling towards a warder.

There’s also a section devoted to prison activity or hobbies, where inmates’ woodwork and carvings are on display.

Prohibited objects – all illegal and contraband items that have been confiscated during prison raids – form a fascinating display of makeshift knives and shafts, dagga pipes, forged keys and tattoo needles.

The photographic display includes group shots of prisoners throughout the ages, subjects of the province’s penal system, standing alongside their warders. As the photographs become more modern, articles trace the development of the penal system in South Africa from barbaric methods to the modern imprisonment trends of today.



Visiting hours

Tuesday to Friday 09h00 to 15h00
Closed on public holidays



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