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THE WILLIAM PORTER REFORMATORY - TOKAI - CAPE TOWN

Set in the Tokai Forest at the foot of the Constantiaberg Mountains in Cape Town, South Africa, lie the ruins of the William Porter Reformatory. Constructed in 1890 the ruins of this reformatory constitute a testament to horrors and injustices that we can’t even begin to imagine despite the evidence still extant there in the form of graffiti and messages on the walls of the cells along with the Judas windows still evident in the dormitory and cell doors.

Referred to here and there as Sir William Porter, the man whose bequest of £20,000 “for the establishment and maintenance, at the Cape, of one or more reformatories” way back in 1878 actually declined a Knighthood. His good intentions however, rather than being of help to anyone, actually caused pain and suffering of unimaginable measure to hundreds (if not thousands), of young boys who were incarcerated in this institution between 1890 and the late 1980’s when it fell into disuse.

Youngsters were crowded into this very harsh prison-like environment under the constant surveillance of warders, many of whom were unemployed or ex-convicts. Warders either played by the rules of domination and subordination of inmates or lost their jobs, and arbitrary brutality and violence was a regular feature of reformatory life.

The boys were let out of the dormitories at six o’clock in the morning and locked in again at six at night. The scariest of all is that wardens removed all lights by 20h30. One doesn’t need a vivid imagination to know what took place in these deepest darkest nights of the soul when juveniles were most powerless and vulnerable. Homosexual rape initiated newcomers into the 'under-life’ of the reformatory while younger boys were soon drafted into service, sexual and otherwise, for older boys. Masturbation and homosexuality were common as was fagging, a common boarding-school phenomenon. 

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