Seven great reasons to put Liliesleaf on your itinerary
Now, more than ever, visitors to South Africa want to see places where our late former president, Nelson Mandela, lived and worked
Johannesburg is blessed with several of these, but if your clients truly want to understand the story of South Africa’s Struggle against apartheid, the place to start is Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. Here’s why...
1. Liliesleaf is where the Struggle took root
It can be argued that Liliesleaf farm is where the Struggle against apartheid really took root. Indeed, were it not for the events that unfolded here, the course of South Africa’s history might have been vastly different.
Liliesleaf became a household name when the South African police raided the farm on 11 July 1963, netting leading figures in the nascent resistance movement, among them Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu and Denis Goldberg.
The arrests at Liliesleaf led to the Rivonia Trial, which saw the majority of these leaders jailed for life, among them Nelson Mandela, who was to emerge from prison in 1990 as the prospective president of a new, miraculously transformed democracy.
While the Rivonia Trial set back the Struggle by decades, it also created a generation of fine political leaders who forged their close ties and honed their political thinking on Robben Island.
2. There’s the Mandela connection
Although Mandela was already serving a five-year sentence at the time of the Rivonia arrests, he had a very strong connection to Liliesleaf. This is where he went under cover, living under the guise of a gardener using the pseudonym David Motsamayi; he was also the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSize, the military wing of the ANC, which was born at Liliesleaf.
The small, cell-like room in which he lived and slept, as well as the many anecdotes about his time here, form part of the Liliesleaf story.
Among these anecdotes is that he used to sell vegetables to locals living in the surrounding area, and possibly the local police station.
3. It’s a world-class display
Featuring the original farmhouse and its outbuildings set on three acres of land in this leafy Johannesburg suburb, Liliesleaf is a highly interactive display using information gathered during original oral interviews with people associated with the farm.
Many fascinating stories and events that helped shape our democracy are brought to life through dynamic exhibits.
Visitors can hear, see and watch much of this material through highly creative interactive mechanisms, such as old-fashioned telephones and radio broadcasts evocative of the early 1960s, as well as old footage.
4. And it’s won many prizes
In 2010, Liliesleaf was recognised as an outstanding tourism product by the British Guild of Travel Writers for its interactive multimedia display.
Since opening its doors to the public in 2008, Liliesleaf has also won two Silver Loeries for Experiential Digital Applications; two Interactive Media Council Awards – Best in Class (US); a Landscaping Architectural Award; the South African Architects Merit Award; and in 2013 was awarded a Certificate of Excellence from TripdAvisor.
5. It’s a labour of love
The conservation and development of Liliesleaf into a fully fledged tourism product is due to the tireless commitment of Nicholas Wolpe, the CEO, whose father was the anti-apartheid activist, Harold Wolpe, who facilitated the purchase of Liliesleaf (on behalf of the South African Communist Party).
Nicholas established the Liliesleaf Trust in 2002, when he started to buy back three properties on which the historical structures were situated (Liliesleaf had been subdivided in the intervening years), in order to establish the heritage centre.
6. It’s easy to get to
Liliesleaf is located at 7 George Avenue in Rivonia, Johannesburg, only 8km from the Sandton Gautrain Station. It’s best to set aside two to three hours to get a true feel and sense of this unique and symbolic historical site. It is open from 8.30am to 5pm every day Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 4pm on weekends (unless otherwise stated).
7. It’s a good place for a bite to eat
There’s an excellent café on site that offers hearty breakfasts and light lunches. The sunny outdoor seating area is a great place for your clients to take a break, with most meals coming in under R80.