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Fifteen years into the apartheid period in South Africa’s history, a black consciousness movement known as the African National Congress (ANC) had felt they had run out of all avenues to break the oppression of black people through dialogue and peaceful means, and took a decision to take up arms against the ruling National Party. They had formed a military wing and called it uMkhonto we Sizwe, meaning Spear of the Nation in Zulu, and through covert means, acquired a farm in Rivonia from where they could plot military action and hide fugitives sought by the government. This farm was called Liliesleaf Farm and in 1963, a police raid here resulted in the arrest of high ranking ANC members. The famous Rivonia Trial of 11 ANC leaders was to follow, which included Nelson Mandela, and 8 were handed life sentences with1 acquittal.
Today, Liliesleaf Farm is a museum that tells the story of these events and the liberation struggle. In a sense it glamorises some of the activities planned from here which, had they been effected, would have been deadly in their consequence. However, the farm is an integral part of South African history and should never be forgotten.
The Liliesleaf Archive houses important research material relating to this and other information relevant to the period.
The irony of this saga is that the farm was saved from destruction by Nicholas Wolpe, the son of Harold who was a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the very man who bought Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s on behalf of the SACP and ANC. Being a white man, he was able to make the purchase without raising suspicion. Harold Wolpe was arrested in 1963 but escaped from the Marshall Square police station and went into exile for almost 30 years. Nicholas is the current CEO of the Liliesleaf Trust.
The museum is both moving and interesting, and leaves one with many moral questions to ponder.