What happened at Liliesleaf Farm?At the farm, they held key debates on political and military policy and strategy. It was at Liliesleaf farm that the most prominent leaders of South Africa’s struggle against Apartheid sought shelter, and attended meetings. Some of these included Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki (Father of South Africa’s current president Thabo Mbeki), Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Raymond Mhaba, Rusty Bernstein, Bob Hepple, Harold Wolpe, and Denis Goldberg. Many of these individuals were discovered in the police’s raid on Liliesleaf farm, and tried in the subsequent Rivonia Treason Trial. They were to later spend over 25 years in prison.
*escaped before going to trial
Clause 4: The Land shall be shared among those who work it!
Restriction of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger;
The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers;
Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land; All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose; People shall not be robbed of their cattle, and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.
This Aerial picture of the farm and outbuildings was taken by the police in their surveillance of Liliesleaf farm.
The Significance of Liliesleaf to the Struggle Against Apartheid
Liliesleaf is uniquely connected with the Rivonia trial - which came to represent the essence of the liberation struggle and focused world attention on South Africa. The media surrounding the trial and the harsh sentencing of the accused catapulted the atrocities of South Africa onto the international stage. The trialists became international icons of a struggle against an oppressive regime.
In addition, Liliesleaf Farm is acknowledged to be the birth place of MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe - Spear of the Nation). MK is the military wing of the ANC, and the farm was the nerve centre from which the MK leadership planned the struggle for liberation and justice.
It was at Liliesleaf farm where the high command met to plan Operation Mayibuye – the plan to overthrow the apartheid regime. The outhouse buildings on Liliesleaf housed the printing presses which were producing freedom literature. And it was from the brick structure that the inhabitants of the farm broadcast the first test of radio freedom using the lightening conductor as an Arial transmitter.
With the enactment of Apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination became institutionalized. Race laws touched every aspect of social life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites, and the sanctioning of “white-only” jobs and the effective erosion of black democratic rights in the bulk of South Africa. This system of legislated racial discrimination continued to intensify, and in 1960, South Africa was in the grip of an overwhelmingly oppressive Apartheid regime.
The penalties imposed on political protest, even non-violent protest, were severe. During the states of emergency which continued intermittently until 1989, anyone could be detained without a hearing by a low-level police official for up to six months. Thousands of individuals died in custody, frequently after gruesome acts of torture. Those who were tried were sentenced to death, banished, or imprisoned for life.
On 21 March 1960, a peaceful protest against apartheid laws resulted in the police killing sixty-seven unarmed demonstrators and injuring over 180. Most of those killed and injured were women and children. The uproar among the oppressed was immediate, and the following week saw demonstrations, protest marches, strikes, and riots around the country. On March 30, 1960, the government declared a state of emergency, detaining more than 18,000 people. Those campaigning for the end of Apartheid, and for democratic rights for all South Africans were banned (the African National Congress in 1960, and the Communist Party in 1950) and it became illegal for known members of the party to meet in public. If they met they risked being arrested.
While the ANC had been officially outlawed, and some claimed extinguished, its leaders had decided that the organisation would not just give up and die. It would continue underground.
As the Communist party was banned, it became illegal for known members of the party to meet in public. If they met they risked being arrested. As a result of this and the implementation of the State of Emergency, the Communist Party decided to acquire a secure and secluded property where its leadership could meet. They chose Liliesleaf Farm, a 28 acre farm situated some 12 miles from the centre of Johannesburg. Liliesleaf was purchased by Navian (Pty) Ltd which was effectively a front company for the Communist Party. The funds to purchase the farm apparently came from the former Soviet Union via Zurich into South Africa. Arthur Goldreich, a member of the Communist Party, together with his family, fronted as the ‘white owners’ of Liliesleaf farm, projecting the façade of the ‘white front’, while the thatched cottage and outbuildings were used to conceal underground activities.
The Raid on Liliesleaf Farm
It was from these very buildings and structures that liberation activity, dialogue and planning took place.
It was decided that the 11th July 1963 would be the last time they would meet at Liliesleaf. The leadership had been worried for some time that Liliesleaf could be exposed and such it was felt necessary to close operations and move to another farm.
The meeting on the 11th was to discuss Operation Mayibuye, the plan to overthrow the Apartheid Government. The plan had been originated by Govan Mbeki and Joe Slovo, and was so secret was this plan that only Nelson Mandela and a handful of his colleagues in the armed wing of the ANC knew of it.
However, the decision to move to another location had been made too late. South African Police had already received a tip-off that Walter Sisulu would be at Liliesleaf. Walter Sisulu had gone into hiding as result of a previous conviction, and was facing a five year jail term.
On the afternoon of the 11th July, 1963, a dry-cleaning and flower van drove down the dusty farm drive way and stopped just past the Manor and slightly back from the Thatched Cottage. Someone in the Thatched Cottage had just opened the thatched cottage door and noticed the vans. As he was about to ask one of the farm labourers about the vehicles, armed policemen burst out of the vans, and from that moment, the word 'Rivonia' became synonymous around the world with the silencing of resistance in South Africa.
In the thatched cottage, the police had found a number of senior leaders of the resistance, as well as the document outlining Operation Mayibuye, the resistance movement’s plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa. All the men were arrested.
The police raid on Liliesleaf Farm on the July 11th, 1963 was critical. The arrest of so many senior ANC leaders was a major blow to the movement and the struggle for liberation. However, the subsequent trial, which became known to the world as the Rivonia Trial, finally focused world scrutiny on South Africa and its oppressive regime.
The Escape from Marshall Square
Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe (a leading member of the ANC and SACP) escaped from Marshall Square in Johannesburg after bribing a prison guard. After hiding in various safe houses for two months, they escaped through Swaziland dressed as priests with the aid of Manni Brown, who posed as a tour operator as a cover to deliver weapons to the ANC.
Goldreich and Wolpe’s escape was symbolically very important. Following the raid on Liliesleaf, the Apartheid government believed that it had crushed the opposition. The escape proved otherwise, and was a major victory for the opposition after the raid.
Wolpe’s escape saw his brother-in-law, James Kantor arrested and being charged with the same crimes as Mandela and his co-accused.
"Liliesleaf was an old house that needed work and no one lived there. I moved in under the pretext that I was a houseboy or caretaker that would live there until my master took possession. I had taken the alias David Motsamayi, the name of one of my former clients. At the farm, I wore the simple blue overalls that were the uniform of the black male servant."
Long Walk to Freedom
GPS Coordinates: 26° 2' 38" S / 28° 3' 13" E