Liliesleaf Farm

“. . . straight out of a John le Carre novel!“

“. . . engulfed with emotion and overwhelmed with information!“

The entrance to the main farm house where Arthur Goldreich and his family lived.

When renovations started at Liliesleaf in 2002, the plan was to keep it as authentic as possible, but like so many other sites of historical importance in the city, the end result is far too clinical!
It's all too tidy and squeaky clean!

There is no semblance to this ever having been a farm, but is rather a monument to where Liliesleaf Farm once was!

What was facebrick has been painted, and what was painted is now re-used face brick!
I find the award winning architecture somewhat intrusive.
The modern administrative buildings with rolling manicured lawns and vast areas of modern brick paving all camouflage the fact that this was once an isolated, rural area!

I've always thought the late Rocco Bosman's sensitive architecture to be the benchmark for restored historical buildings
He was responsible for restoring Satyagraha House, one of Mahatma Gandhi's homes in Johannesburg, into a serene and calming Guest House and Museum

But, having said that, a visit to Liliesleaf - the story of which could have been a blockbuster suspense movie, with such audacity and political intrigue, is one of my favourite historical sites in Johannesburg!

It's a 'must do' when in the city!
Adults: R110 (self guided)
Pensioners: R40 (with passport or ID)
Children Under 7: Free
Children 8 – 17 years: R50 (must be accompanied by an adult)
Students: R60 (with valid student card)

Guided school tours
Learners: R50
Teachers: R80

Monday – Friday : 08h30 – 17h00 (8.30am - 5.00pm)
Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays : 09h00 – 16h00 (9.00am - 4.00pm)

If Liliesleaf has been booked for an exclusive function, the site will be closed to visitors. Please check the home page (link below) to see if a function will affect your visit.

Telephone : +27 (0)11 803-7882/3/4
Fax : +27 (0)11 803-7893

7 George Avenue (Between Rietfontein and Cowley Roads)

GPS Co-ordinates (hddd.ddddd)
S26.04361 E028.05352

The ticket office is in a building called the Liberation Centre, which also houses the auditorium.

Your tour used to start in the auditorium, with a 12 minute explainatory video, but you now watch the video in what was the garage, which is in the middle of the site.

You then go back to the entrance, and walk down the path leading to the front door of the Main House.
From here, you follow in the same footsteps that shaped such significant moments in the history of this country!

You enter the farm house in what was the entrance hall, walk through the lounge, the dining room and the kitchen, which are bare of their original furnishings, but are now filled with high tech displays, highlighting the police raid which took place mid afternoon on Thursday July 11th, 1963!
Two rooms also display the support received from Sweden and Norway during the struggle.

Exiting the house from the old kitchen, you pass the coal bunker and the garage on your way up to the outbuildings.
It was this coal bunker that determined the fate of Nelson Mandela.

The outbuildings, most of which have been rebuilt, consist of 13 rooms plus the original thatch cottage
The police numbered the rooms 1 - 13, to enable them to document the contents of each room

A meeting of the High Command of the ANC was taking place in the thatch cottage when the police raided the farm.

Beyond the outbuildings is the Africa Hinterland truck (see below) and the Umkhonto we Sizwe display (abbreviated as MK, Zulu for "Spear of the Nation").

The view of the farm house from the outbuildings, with the coal bunker just visible, outside the back door

Opposte the ticket office is Cedric's Café.
The menu looks like the page of an old newspaper, with stories, in amongst the food-offerings, that recall incidences from the past.

'Cedric' was a code name used for both the farm, and the people living on it.
Other nick-names included 'Rivonia', 'Lil's Place' or simply 'the farm'.

We've had light lunches there, and although service can be slow, we've never been disappointed with the quantity, the quality or the price!

Although using violence against the State had been discussed years before, the African National Congress (ANC) had repeatedly attempted to bring about a peaceful end to apartheid.

This view was challenged in 1960 when 69 protesters were killed by the South African police in Sharpeville on 21st March, and a few days later on 30th March, 1960, when the State of Emergency was declared, and both the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned

These actions by the Government made it clear that they would not contemplate an end to apartheid - and certainly not by peaceful means!

Mandela had called for a countrywide general strike on 29th, 30th and 31st May 1961, that had been relatively unsuccessful, and it was due to this 'failure', that he was able to convince the ANC that violence, and not peaceful protest, was the only option.

He was authorised to form uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK - translates as 'Spear of the Nation!) - the armed wing of the ANC, in June 1961, and it came into being in November 1961.

The South Afican Communist Party (SACP) had been banned in 1950, and subsequently operated underground in secret.

In 1961, with money evidently given by the former Soviet Union, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, was bought by Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, as a safe refuge from Government persecution.

Nelson Mandela stayed in a number of 'safe-houses' prior to his move to Liliesleaf Farm in October 1961, as the incognito caretaker.
He lived in the outbuildings behind the farmhouse, whilst builders and painters renovated the main house and extended the outbuildings around him.
He used the alias of a former client - David Motsamayi, as an undercover name.

Mandela had gone underground after the failed strike, and lived in the relative safety of Liliesleaf Farm.

Shortly after this, Arthur Goldreich, who was a white SACP member, and unknown to the security police at the time, moved into the farm with his family.
He acted as a front for the clandestine meetings that would take place between the ANC and members of the Congress Alliance, which was a coalition of anti-apartheid organisations led by the ANC.

The police outside the entrance gate to the farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg, during their raid on Thursday 11th July 1963

Mandela left South Africa illegally in January 1962, looking for support from foreign governments to implement the ANC's plans, as well as getting military training in Morocco and Ethiopia.

It was whilst driving back to Johannesburg from Durban, where Mandela had been reporting back on his recent trip into Africa, that he was arrested by South African security forces, acting on a tip-off, near Howick, Natal on August 5th, 1962.

He went on trial at the Old Synagogue in Pretoria on 15th October, 1962 - charged, and found guilty, of leaving the country without a passport and inciting workers to strike.

He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on 7th November 1962.

The two 'navigators' on the table allow visitors to interface with 3D displays

A number of activists who knew of the existence of the secret hideaway, had been arrested, and police started closing in on the leaders of the banned ANC
With a new safe house being difficult to find, it was decided to hold a final meeting at Lil's Place (the name used by those involved!) on Thursday 11th July 1963.

On the same afternoon, a number of policemen and their dogs hidden in a laundry delivery van with "Trade Steam Pressers" branding, raided Liliesleaf Farm.

They surrounded the buildings and arrested Rusty Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and the ANC leader of the time, Walter Sisulu.

Countless documents and papers, including the 'Plan of Action for Operation Mayibuye' - the MK plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa, were confiscated, and would form the bulk of the prosecution's case at the upcoming Rivonia trial.
In his book, "Long Walk to Freedom", Mandela says: "In one fell swoop, the police had captured the entire high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe."

A number of other arrests followed.

The outbuildings where Nelson Mandela and other black ANC members lived.

With Mandela being in jail, there was no way of linking him to the arrests at Liliesleaf Farm.
Shortly after being incarcerated, he asked his lawyers to pass on a message that his diary and documents that he had left behind, be disposed of.
He later received word that his instructions had been carried out.

Arthur Goldreich, with Harold Wolpe who had been arrested on the Bechuanaland Protectorate (Botswana today) border, and two other political prisoners, escaped from Marshall Square in Johannesburg after bribing a young warder.
They fled the country, and weeks later flew to London, via Swaziland and Bechuanaland Protectorate, where their families joined them

Charges against Bob Hepple were withdrawn after he agreed to turn State witness, but, with his wife, fled the country on his release.

Nelson Mandela was transfered from Robben Island to Pretoria Local police station, without knowing about the raid on Liliesleaf Farm.
Police had found his incriminating diary and documents hidden in a coal bunker outside the kitchen of the farm house, and accordingly charged him with the other defendants.

On the 9th October 1963, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, Raymond Mhlaba, James Kantor, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were all charged with 'sabotage and consiracy', which, if found guilty, carried the supreme penalty of death by hanging!

The outbuildings where Nelson Mandlea lived, behind the main farm house

Sentence was passed on Friday 12th June, 1964, and eight of the accused, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were all sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, despite helping to draft the MK constitution, and James Kantor were both acquitted.
"Rusty" Bernstein in October and James Kantor in December, 1963.

The seven black prisoners, Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada, Mhlaba, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni and were imprisoned on Robben Island, and Goldberg, who was the only white, was imprisoned in Pretoria Central Prison.

The men served between 22 and 27 years in prison, with Mandela being the last prisoner to be released on 11th February, 1990.

The Africa Hinterland Safari truck that carried a ton of weapons covertly hidden in special compartments under the passengers' seats.

An interesting display that is not directly linked to the raid, is an old Bedford truck that belonged to Africa Hinterland Safaris.
The company, which operated between 1986 and 1993 as an overland safari company, was a front for smuggling arms into South Africa for the ANC's armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe.

Each time a truck crossed the border into South Africa, it carried with it a ton of weapons covertly hidden in special compartments under the passengers' seats.
In 1990, operations moved to South Africa, and shorter trips were offered to Botswana and Zimbabwe, which meant a faster turnover, and therefore more weapons delivered!
Not only did Africa Hinterland dupe customs and the security forces, but they also deceived their fare paying passengers.

In keeping with the intrigue of Liliesleaf Farm, it is believed that 40 tons of AK47's, limpet mines, grenades, pistols, axplosive and ammunition were smuggled into the country using this cloak-and-dagger method!

7 George Avenue (Between Rietfontein and Cowley Roads)
Liliesleaf Trust website

Page uploaded : 21st October 2013
Page updated : 29th April 2018

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