Last week, a dear friend and I paid a visit to Liliesleaf heritage site here in Johannesburg, South Africa. We participated in a guided tour. I felt compelled to share some parts of the amazing experience, so here goes.
On 7 April 1960, all groups campaigning for the end of Apartheid were banned. The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and the African National Congress (ANC) were thus forced to go underground. As a consequence of the ban, 28-acre Liliesleaf Estate in Rivonia was purchased to provide a secure location where the underground leadership could meet.
In late October 1961, Nelson Mandela moved to Liliesleaf, following an invitation from the South African Communist Party (SACP). His cover was that he was David Motsamai, a gardener at the estate. Serving as a decoy, the Goldreichs, a family of four, projected an acceptable White middle-class family façade, while the thatched cottage and outbuildings concealed covert liberation activities on the estate.
Senior leaders of the ANC which included Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Raymond Mhlaba, Lionel ‘Rusty’ Bernstein, Bob Hepple, Harold Wolpe, and Denis Goldberg attended strategy meetings at Liliesleaf.
The underground liberation movement was in operation for almost two years when security police raided Liliesleaf on 11 July 1963.
After years of campaigning for peaceful negotiation with the apartheid government, the ANC’s decision to move from non-violent resistance to armed struggle in the protest against apartheid was a tactic of last resort. During the raid at Liliesleaf, Rivonia on 11 July 1963, the police found ‘Operation Mayibuye‘ strategy document. The document outlined the ANC’s detailed plans to overthrow the Apartheid government through ‘armed resistance leading to victory by military means’.
Many countries across the globe supported uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) in the struggle. An interesting form of international support is The Secret Safari. Volunteers from England and Holland drove trucks full of hidden guns and ammunition overland across Africa to supply the African National Congress. Forty tons in total were transported under the seats of unsuspecting tourists on Africa Hinterland Expeditions between 1987 and 1993. No one was ever caught and the mission remained one of the ANC’s deepest secrets until 2001. This technique of hiding weapons was made more effective by the cover of the very unaware White tourists and the European drivers.
The Liliesleaf museum serves as a reminder that the anti-apartheid campaign was not civil war, and that civil war would only be an approach of last resort. The ANC had spent years lobbying the apartheid government for peaceful negotiation, but to no avail. The ANC’s decision to move from non-violent resistance to armed struggle in the protest against apartheid was a response to the Apartheid governments’ refusal to engage.
“uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) was an African movement, fighting for dignity, for decent livelihoods, and for equal rights.”
The wall above is a memorial dedicated to the thousands of women and men who took up the armed struggle.
“The copper and bronze books represent the thousands of cadres who found themselves adrift from home and family, pursuing the goal of a free South Africa…”
Without a doubt Liliesleaf, the birthplace of Umkhonto weSizwe, is a well curated heritage site which provides rich perspective on our history. I encourage you to visit one of South Africa’s foremost award-winning heritage sites.
If you’ve visited Liliesleaf in the past, please share your insights and perspective on your experience.
Liliesleaf website: http://www.liliesleaf.co.za/
Images by Thoriso Moseneke