A PLACE OF LIBERATION
Tucked away in the leafy suburb of Rivonia, Johannesburg is Liliesleaf. Once the nerve centre of the liberation movement and a place of refuge for its leaders, today Liliesleaf is one of South Africa's foremost, award-winning heritage sites, where the journey to democracy in South Africa is honoured.
Liliesleaf has always been a place of dialogue. In the early 1960s, when the property was the headquarters for covert, underground activities and a safe house for many leading figures of the liberation movement, debates on political and military policy and strategy were commonplace. People from diverse backgrounds but with a common vision met here to discuss South Africa's emancipation from an oppressive apartheid regime. Today Liliesleaf is a repository for those conversations, and a place where the fruits of a free and equal South Africa are recounted and celebrated.
On 11 July 1963, a dramatic police raid took place at Liliesleaf. Concealed inside a laundry van, a number of security branch policemen made their way down a long, dusty driveway. Members of the MK high command were meeting to discuss a contested strategy to overthrow the government. The raid took them completely by surprise. In the search that followed, the police combed every square centimetre of the property, and collected masses of liberation struggle documents. The security police proclaimed that they had 'hit the jackpot'.
For the apartheid government, the event was a coup. For the liberation movement, it was a crippling blow. Comrades Bernstein, Goldberg, Goldreich, Hepple, Kathrada, Mbeki, Mhlaba and Sisulu were detained. The farm labourers, who were oblivious of the true purpose of Liliesleaf, were also rounded up and taken into police custody. At this stage no one knew what would happen to them. Following the raid, they were joined by Nelson Mandela, who at the time of the raid was serving a five year prison sentence, as well as Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi, fellow comrades who had been arrested prior to the raid.
A dramatic series of events played out in the months after the raid: a gripping jailbreak, the arrest of an unsuspecting and innocent bystander, and much speculation about the identity of the source who had exposed Liliesleaf. Was it an ANC informer, a neighbour, or a foreign intelligence agency?
|Denis Goldberg, social campaigner and former Rivonia Trialist. Goldberg was arrested at Liliesleaf in 1963.
"This is the significance of Rivonia, that this is the place where the transition from petitioning, the early history of the ANC and the liberation movement, to mass action and the defiance of unjust laws campaign... we were talking about a transition to a new form of struggle... Rivonia, Liliesleaf Farm, is an icon of that struggle for freedom."
Following the raid, the core leadership of the ANC and MK were charged with sabotage. The subsequent trial, known as the Rivonia Trial, would change the course of South African history. The apartheid state aimed to use the nine-month long trial as a platform to discredit the liberation movement and their resistance strategies, and to position the trialists as malicious terrorists intent on overthrowing the apartheid government by violent means. The prosecution duly asked for the death penalty. However, the trialists and their dedicated defence counsel, led by Bram Fischer, in effect used the opportunity to put the apartheid government on trial.
On 12 June 1964 Justice Quartus de Wet announced the verdict to a packed courtroom. The local press, international reporters and correspondents eagerly waited for the sentence to be handed down. When the penalty of life imprisonment was declared for the majority of the accused, South Africa's struggle for democracy was catapulted onto the international stage.
|Arthur Chaskalson, former President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa (1994-2001) and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Africa (2001-2005).
"We need to record our history,... to heed the lessons of the past, [least] we slip back into practices that contradict the ideals that underpinned the struggle for freedom and justice in our country."
We invite you to visit Liliesleaf for a journey of enlightenment and the opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of the South African liberation struggle.