Jun 2015

Liliesleaf farm: the farm that changed the course of our history

Written by Albert Pule

Blurb: The Liliesleaf Farm Trust has kept the memory of South Africa’s past alive. A tour of the farm will make you relive the days of the struggle and the final days of Nelson Mandela and his generation.

South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions during heritage day and heritage month. South Africa’s cultural diversity has the power to bring citizens together and build a country that belongs to all who live in it.

South Africa has got a rich history and variety of heritage sites that captures the history of the country. From Robben Island, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Cradle of Humankind, Cape Floral Region, Vredefort Dome and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, Richtersveld Isimangaliso wetland park the sites offers a diversity and abundance of cultural and natural values that encapsulates the value system of the country.    

This year’s theme: ‘Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our heritage” encourages different sectors to reconnect with the past in order to actively participate in shaping the future of the country.  

This year marked the 50th commemoration of the Liliesleaf Farm raid by the apartheid police. During the commemoration, President Jacob Zuma said it’s our joint responsibility to tell the story of Liliesleaf.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure that the story of Liliesleaf and the Rivonia Trial is told in full for the benefit of current and future generations and that to ensure that the ideas born on this farm live forever”.

He added that consultations were under way to declare Liliesleaf Farm a heritage site.

The Liliesleaf Trust has turned the farm into a place of memory and reflection, where the past meets the present. The recent refurbishment of the farm raises awareness and illustrates the meaningful importance of liberation to the youth, especially the “born free” generation.

“We express our sincere gratitude to the Liliesleaf Trust and to all those who continue to work hard to ensure that this farm and the role it played in our struggle is never erased from the history of the evolution of our society” said President Zuma.  

Recently, I took a tour to Liliesleaf Farm to learn more about its significance. As I approach the gate, nestled in the leafy suburb of Rivonia, I am overwhelmed by the sense of retracing the footsteps of giants of our struggle for freedom.

The 28 acre farm was used as a refuge and a secret meeting place by the leadership of the then banned African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party.  

The weather condition on the morning of my tour resembled the conditions on the fateful day of July 11, 1963, a day when the leadership of the ANC and SACP was arrested, changing the course of South Africa’s history, so says my tour guide Martha Moyo.

Her sentiments are echoed by the Chief Executive Officer of the Liliesleaf Trust Nicholas Wolpe. This only increases my sense of the historical magnitude of the visit.

On the day in question the police swooped on the farm looking for Walter Sisulu. They came disguised in a laundry van and arrested most of the top leadership of the struggle veterans.   

“It’s a place of memory and legacy. It has been restored to tell a story of a very specific period in our liberation struggle,” says Wolpe. 

Wolpe says the story of Lilieasleaf is told in a dynamic and interactive manner to appeal to the visitor.  “We want to ensure that the events that occurred in that period are communicated in a manner that stimulates interest and encourages a journey of discovery and enlightenment.” 

We first go to the main house where Arthur Goldreich and his family stayed. As we enter the main house, I am thrilled to be entering the same house that great thinkers that shaped the history of the country used to gather to plot how to overthrow the apartheid regime.  

Moyo takes us to the “dining room” of the Goldreich’s where a huge interactive table with an arb is located in the middle of the room. The table displays a 3D interface consisting of videos, images, audio, and text depicting the history of communist party and the ANC.

From the main house, we walk to the kitchen, where Mandela was sitting, listening to a radio news bulletin that announced that Chief Albert Luthuli had won a Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. As we open the door, the music of the bulletin heard by Mandela plays and takes me back to that day where Luthuli gave that speech. 

Our next stop is the thatch cottage where Walter Sisulu and his comrades were arrested as they were debating the feasibility of Operation Mayibuye. Inside the room, we watch the video of one of the police officers that was part of the raid explaining how they carried out the raid. 

The last stop of our tour is the room used by Mandela disguised as David Motsamayi, a vegetable vendor. In the end, I feel like I have experienced an important part of South African history. Only in my case, there was no risk of arrest, only a friendly tour guide with a welcoming smile.

September being Tourism and Heritage Month, the public can visit the farm at a cost of between R60 and R150. 


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