Why visit Rivonia and Liliesleaf Farm?

A fascinating look into the past ...

Rivonia, a now bustling suburb north of Johannesburg, has a dramatic story to tell. The name, Rivonia, is etched in the annals of South African history.

Its fascinating story includes tales of:

  • Liliesleaf Farm
  • The banned African National Congress (ANC)
  • The arrest of the entire leadership of the armed wing of the ANC
  • The Rivonia Trials

What was happening in Rivonia on Thursday the 11th July, 1963?

On the 11th of July 1963 a secret meeting was being held on Liliesleaf Farm, in the then rural suburb of Rivonia, north of Johannesburg. Present were, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel Bernstein and Bob Hepple i.e. the entire leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC.

Nelson Mandela, the commander-in-chief of MK, was not present as he was serving a 5 year prison sentence for leaving the country illegally in 1962.

Why were they there?

Liliesleaf Farm, at the time, served as the temporary underground headquarters of the banned African National Congress (ANC) and it was there that Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was holding its last meeting… The cadres were studying Mandela’s diary of his African tour and copies of a draft memorandum, ‘Operation Mayibuye’, which outlined a possible strategy of guerrilla warfare. It was then that the security police arrived.

What is the history of the African National Congress (ANC)?

The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 in Bloemfontein and is the second oldest liberation movement in Africa (the Natal Indian Congress was established in 1894) and one of the oldest liberation movements in the world. It had as its main goal the maintenance of voting rights for Coloureds (persons of mixed race) and black Africans in Cape Province.

From the 1940s it spearheaded the struggle to eliminate apartheid, the official South African policy of racial separation and discrimination. The ANC was banned from 1960 to 1990 by the white South African government. During these three decades it operated underground and also outside South African territory. The ban was lifted in 1990, and Nelson Mandela, the president of the ANC, was elected in 1994 to head South Africa’s first multiethnic government.

What was the result of the Liliesleaf Raid?

These arrests effectively changed the direction and dynamics of the Liberation Struggle and altered its focus. This catastrophic raid crushed the internal Liberation Movement and forced the ANC and its partners to conduct the struggle outside of the South African borders. Amongst those arrested were children, the farm labourers, Hazel Goldreich, Arthur Goldreich, those in the thatched cottage and Dennis Goldberg. So, of the ten Rivonia trialists, six were arrested at Liliesleaf.

More arrests followed shortly after this incident.

The arrests were followed by the Rivonia Treason Trials, which are said to have changed South Africa forever. At these trials Nelson Mandela and many of the ANC high command were convicted of sabotage and were sentenced to life.

Why visit Rivonia and Liliesleaf Farm?

For those eager to understand the background of the ANC, its leaders past and present, its fight for democracy, it is essential to visit Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. In the 1960s Liliesleaf was an isolated farm where the banned ANC leaders based their headquarters. Now Liliesleaf is a world renowned museum and one of South Africa’s foremost, award-winning heritage sites, where the journey to democracy in South Africa is honoured.

Liliesleaf opened to the public in June 2008 and has since attracted thousands of local and international visitors, eager to understand and engage with a pivotal period in South Africa’s liberation struggle. The museum pays testimony to the many lives that changed the political landscape of this country.