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Infamous prison converted into innovative interactive museum

The Old Prison Museum in Pietermaritzburg has exceptional historical significance for South Africa and its people. The building is a testament to the abuse of human rights in South Africa during colonial rule and the apartheid era.
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Formula D interactive, a specialist design consultancy, has been commissioned by Project Gateway, which is a church-based organisation, to produce an interactive museum experience, based on a concept the firm developed for the site in 2011. While maintaining the original layout and harsh features of the location, the proposed exhibition enhances the authentic experience with information graphics as well as innovative multimedia displays.

Situated on the corner of Pine Street and Burger Street, the 127-year-old prison's history spans eras from colonial South Africa's early days to the apartheid era and from the liberation struggle, to the first democratic elections in 1994. Prisoners included famous leaders and historical figures, such as Nelson Mandela, King Dinizulu, Kasturba Gandhi (Gandhi's wife), Harry Gwala, Moses Mabhida, Peter Brown, A.S. Chetty, Omar Essack and Derick Marsh, to name a few.

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By converting the oldest cell block of the "Maritzburg Gaol" into a world-class museum, Project Gateway and funding institutions will make sure that important struggle activists who were imprisoned here will be remembered. It will also strengthen Pietermaritzburg's attraction to the increasing numbers of tourists visiting the region.

The first cellblock has been declared a National Monument and is one of the oldest buildings in Pietermaritzburg. The Old Prison is also part of The Freedom Route, which aims to engage tourists in the rich struggle history of the area.

Since the conceptual planning and the presentation by Formula D in 2011, Project Gateway has sought to acquire funding for the implementation of various interactive museum exhibits and graphics. Early in 2014 funding was granted by the Lotto foundation paving the way for the vision of an attractive contemporary museum to become a reality.

"Formula D's compelling concept book for the museum was key to secure funding for the project. We are looking forward to continue working with them to make our museum an outstanding visitor experience," says Di Milford, Head of Donor marketing and PR at Project Gateway.

The museum is scheduled to open its doors in time for the South African school holidays at the end of 2014.