11 July 1963, Liliesleaf farm was raided, resulting in the the arrest of 19 ANC leaders and leading to the Rivonia Trial. Today Liliesleaf is an important heritage museum and a must-visit for anyone interested in South African struggle history. A visit to Liliesleaf allows visitors to experience a first-hand account of the events leading up to the infamous raid of the farm, as well as insights into some of the revolutionary figures who helped to shape South Africa’s democracy.
Liliesleaf is deserving of its place in South African history as it served as the birthplace and secret headquarters of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC during the 1960s, and the location where many prominent ANC leaders were based. It was here that the most prominent leaders of South Africa’s struggle against Apartheid sought refuge, and attended meetings. Some of these included Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Rusty Bernstein, Harold Wolpe, and Denis Goldberg.
The original buildings have recently been restored to their earlier condition and upgraded with state of the art interactive exhibits. I was totally absorbed by the interactive storytelling provided using the audio-visual displays, which were effectively used to recreat the dramatic events leading up to the police raid and the Rivonia Trial. The exhibits are well curated and tell the story of Liliesleaf in a most captivating manner, with sub-plots of revolution, treason and prison escape creating an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
A visit to Mandela’s room depicts his simple lodgings when he was undercover as a gardener at Liliesleaf, while an interactive multi-media table allows one to explore the personalities behind the people associated with the farm.
A particularly poignant part of the exhibition was the story of a young prison warden, Johan Greeff, who helped four ANC and SACP members escape from Marshall Square police station in 1963. Greef was later sentenced to six years in jail though he later met the people he helped escape and received a payment from the ANC for his contribution.
Another aspect of exhibition that I found fascinating was that of the ‘Secret Safari’, the story of Africa Hinterland Tours, an overland safari company which was a cover to transport arms into South Africa from neighbouring countries. The overland truck, which is on display at Liliesleaf, was specifically modified to conceal steel containers containing arms with unsuspecting tourists used as cover for the smuggling of weapons by Umkhonto we Sizwe. For more info on this check out the dramatized documentary Secret Safari (2001).
The on-site facilities include a coffee shop, auditorium and even conferencing facilities. Liliesleaf is located in the leafy suburb of Rivonia, making it easily accessible from the highway. The entrance fee also includes a guided tour, which is highly recommended. Though the museum isn’t that big, the exhibits are detailed and rich and can take some time to get through.
In terms of significance as a heritage site and its impact on South Africa’s history, Liliesleaf is right up there with Robben Island, the Hector Peterson Museum, and Qunu, where Nelson Mandela grew up. If you’re in Johannesburg, do yourself a favour and visit Lilliesleaf for great insights into a significant event in Nelson Mandela’s and South Africa’s history.
R60 of adults and R35 for children, inclusive of a 2 hour guided tour.
Tel: +27 11 803-7882
Liliesleaf is open Monday-Friday: 09.00 – 17.00 , Saturday-Sunday: 09.00 – 16.00.