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28 November 2012

Luxury heritage hotel to be built at historic Liliesleaf

The historical experience of a visit to Liliesleaf will be complemented by a stay in a luxury 5-star heritage hotel.

The Liliesleaf Heritage Site in Johannesburg. The Liliesleaf Heritage Site in Johannesburg.

Liliesleaf was the place where the principles and ideas of South Africa’s epic Freedom Struggle were given meaning and voice. We want the hotel to be the kind of place where leaders, scholars, corporates and intellectuals gather to debate the issues of the day - Nicholas Wolpe, Liliesleaf Trust CEO

Construction of the R120-million Liliesleaf Boutique Hotel at Liliesleaf will begin in the 1st quarter of 2013 on a piece of land adjoining  the historic site  in Rivonia, Johannesburg.

The Liliesleaf Boutique Hotel will pay homage to South Africa’s struggle for freedom and liberation and in the process honour the Rivonia trialists. The primary objective of building the hotel is to financially support Liliesleaf to ensure the historical site’s sustainability.

Liliesleaf Farm was the ‘underground’ headquarters of the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto-we-Sizwe (MK), in South Africa during 1960s apartheid South Africa.

It was here that the leaders of the ANC, among them Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki,  were arrested in 1963 and tried for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. The trial focused the world’s attention on South Africa – attention that was sustained throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s as the Struggle for liberation reached its peak.

Nicholas Wolpe, CEO and founder of the Liliesleaf Trust, says the hotel is the final cog in the wheel of the Liliesleaf legacy project. The trust bought back Liliesleaf Farm in 2002, and started its restoration and transformation into a historical site. 

‘Liliesleaf was the place where the principles and ideas of South Africa’s epic Freedom Struggle were given meaning and voice - a place of meeting, engagement, dialogue and expression. We want the hotel to be the kind of place where leaders, scholars, corporates and intellectuals gather to debate the issues of the day,’ he said. 

Visitors to Liliesleaf get to understand what the Freedom Struggle was trying to achieve, through the use of technology and the voices and personal stories of those who were directly involved.

Wolpe explains the different experiences one can have in South Africa for those who want to learn more about South Africa’s complex political past:

‘Robben Island gives you a perspective of what it was like to be incarcerated and the strength of the spirit. The Apartheid Museum tells you what apartheid was about. Liliesleaf tells you about the Freedom Struggle and that it was not a black versus white struggle. People are amazed to discover when they come here that there were whites who gave up their privileges and joined the Struggle,’ he says. 

The hotel will be built on a portion of original farmland and will aesthetically blend into the historical site. It will have 44 luxury suites and 2 presidential suites (each with 2 bedrooms), a conference centre catering for 60 delegates, a spa and gym. The hotel décor will be African-inspired and will pay homage to the Rivonia trialists. A library will offer historical books and exhibits from that time.

There will be a dedicated historical television channel (accessible from each room) that will host the 600 hours of archival footage and interviews conducted by the Liliesleaf Trust since 2002, giving hotel guests a good sense of what took place at Liliesleaf. 

Mantis Development, a division of the Mantis Group, is building the hotel and will manage it. Graham Moon, CEO of Mantis Development, says of Liliesleaf and Mantis’s interest in the hotel: ‘In terms of a heritage asset, there is nothing to compare to it in South Africa and from Mantis’s perspective, it’s a unique opportunity to own a hotel in association with this type of heritage resource.’

Moon added that Mantis would like it to be the top strategic business hotel in the country. ‘Liliesleaf’s history is one where people from diverse backgrounds came together to take on the apartheid regime. We want people in the business environment and individuals to bring their corporate challenges and individual struggles to Liliesleaf and draw inspiration from it,’ he concluded.