Liliesleaf Farm Museum in Johannesburg

In December 1961, Arthur Goldreich, a member of the South African Communist Party, moved to Liliesleaf Farm with his family. The farm was a semi-rural smallholding in located in Rivonia, which was an affluent, White only suburb in northern Johannesburg that consisted of mostly farm land. 

This is what Rivonia, Johannesburg looked like back in the 60s.

The Goldreich family presented themselves as the typical wealthy White family living peacefully on the farm. However, in reality, Liliesleaf Farm was the secret hideout place for key political activists seeking refuge from the apartheid police. 

This was the entrance of the main house in the front garden.

It also housed key leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) including Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein, Walter Sisulu, Bob Hepple and Andrew Mlangeni. These leaders were in preparation to launch the armed struggle against the apartheid government under the ANC’s new armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe, also known as MK, which means “the Spear of the Nation” in cooperation with the South African Communist Party. 

Nelson Mandela, who was to be commander of the MK, moved into Liliesleaf under the alias of David Motsamayi. He pretended to be a caretaker and chauffeur on the farm to avoid suspicion from the apartheid police.

This is the room that Nelson Mandela stayed in when he moved to Liliesleaf in October 1961. His room had a bare floor and bare walls, a small table, a chair and a bed. He had a place for some books as he spent most of his time reading.

Mandela and the other activists that stayed at the farm formed the MK’s armed struggle plan codenamed “Operation Mayibuye”, which planned to use guerrilla warfare to bring an end to apartheid. The first attacks of the operation were carried out on government’s installations on 16 December 1961. This attack led to the ANC being banned and classified as a terrorist organization by the apartheid police. 

On 11 July 1963, Liliesleaf Farm was raided by the apartheid police. It is believed that because many of those who lived on the farm were under surveillance, the police were able to monitor them and eventually find out the truth about Liliesleaf. Another explanation for the police’s success in finding out about the farm was that informers who infiltrated the ANC gave leads to the police in exchange for a reward. 

When the police raided the residence, they were able to intercept the plans laid out in Operation Mayibuye through the many documents that the activists had created. Sixteen policemen in total and a dog named Cheetah raided the residence that day, with the head of the operation being Detective Warrant-Officer Carel Joseph Dirker. He was regarded as the top investigating officer in the Special Branch at the time. 

This is the thatched cottage where some documents of Operation Mayibuye were seized by the police. Next to the cottage was Room 3, where components of a radio transmitter and numerous documents were found, Room 4, where printing materials, a Gestetner printing press and Nelson Mandela’s passport were found and Room 5, where the broadcast of Radio Freedom took place according to the police that conducted the raids. 

This is the kitchen area inside the thatched cottage.

Mandela was not on the farm during the time of the raid as he was already serving a 5-year sentence for inciting workers to strike and for leaving the country without a passport. All the other activists on the farm were arrested and charged with sabotage and faced the death sentence. 

These are some of the police that conducted the raid of the farm house.

Arthur Goldreich managed to escape from the authorities and left South Africa disguised as a priest. The subsequent trial in 1964 of those caught at Liliesleaf came to be known as the Rivonia Trial. 

Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Ahmed Kathrada were sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island for acts of sabotage designed to ferment violent revolution. Denis Goldberg was sentenced to life in prison at Pretoria Central Prison. All served between 22 and 27 years. In February 1990, Nelson Mandela was the last of the Rivonia trialists to be released.

The museum also houses the Freedom Charter, which was adopted in Kliptown, Soweto on 26 June 1955.

In 1954, following the Defiance Campaign, a joint multi-racial and anti-apartheid coalition was formed. This coalition consisted of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats, the Coloured People’s Congress and the South African Congress of Trade Unions under the banner of the Congress Alliance.

The Congress Alliance started a campaign called the Congress of the People, where ZK Matthews called for a list of demands, aspirations and expectations to be drawn up that would envision a new multi-racial and multi-cultural society.

As part of the campaign, volunteers were dispersed across the country to gather the opinions of ordinary South Africans of what they wanted to see as part of a multi-racial and multi-cultural South Africa. These public opinions were then condensed to create the Freedom Charter.

The Charter was perceived as a threat to White domination by the apartheid government, and police arrested 156 participants of the Congress of the People, charging them with high treason and countrywide conspiracy to use violence to overthrow the present government and replace it with a communist state.

The Treason Trial lasted for nearly 5 years and all of the 156 were found not guilty and released. The apartheid government then proceeded to ban the Freedom Charter.

Museum details

The museum is open on weekdays from Monday to Friday at 8:30am to 5pm, and on weekends, Saturday and Sunday and on public holidays at 9am to 4pm.

Entrance is R110 ($8) for adults, R40 ($3) for pensioners, R60 ($4) for students with a valid student card, and R50 ($3.50) for children between the ages of 8 and 17 who are accompanied by an adult or a tour guide.

Entrance is free for children under the age of 7.

Guided tours are offered on weekdays from 9am to 4pm, and on weekends from 9am to 3:30pm.

Visitors can also explore the museum on their own.

Tour groups of 10 people or more are required to make a reservation with the museum.

Visitors can enjoy light meals and refreshments at Cedric’s Café, which is on-site at the museum.

For contact details and directions to the museum, visit the site here.

* All images taken by me at the Liliesleaf Farm Museum.

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