Things to do in Johannesburg - Liliesleaf Farm

Liliesleaf Farm

On 11 July 1963, a group of anti-apartheid activists were having a crucial meeting in a little cottage on a smallholding in Rivonia, north of Johannesburg.  Little did they know that their lives were about to change forever.  A “laundry van” pulled up and armed policemen jumped out with police dogs. Knowing that they had been discovered, the men in the room tried to escape but they didn't get far. The property was surrounded and they were arrested.

Liliesleaf Farm

Liliesleaf Farm

Incriminating evidence was found during the raid and subsequent search, which led to the eleven Rivonia Trialists (as they were known) including Nelson Mandela being charged with conspiring against the apartheid government. Eight were sentenced to life in prison. They had expected the death penalty. Two were acquitted and charges against the last were dropped.

Those who received life sentences ended up serving between 22 and 27 years. Nelson Mandela was the last of the Rivonia trialists to be released - in February 1990. The other trialists were Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, James Kantor, Bob Hepple, Lionel Bernestein, and Andrew Mhlangeni.

Liliesleaf Farm

The thatched cottage where the meeting was taking place.

This historic event took place at Liliesleaf Farm .  An award-winning heritage site, it played a vital role in the struggle against apartheid. Although it was opened to the public in 2008, my family and I only got around to visiting recently. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be very interesting which is why I hadn’t been there earlier. I was mistaken.

Liliesleaf Farm

Art installation. Floating books represent displaced lives.

This is what I learnt about Liliesleaf Farm ...

  1. The property was purchased by the South African Communist Party (SACP) who sympathised with the ANC and invited them to use the premises. Arthur Goldreich, an SACP member lived there with his family to present a wealthy white family façade.
  2. Nelson Mandela lived there intermittently between 1961 and 1962,  posing as a gardener/caretaker under an alias David Motsamayi, while. However, he was not present at the time of the raid, as he was already serving another sentence on Robben Island after being arrested in Howick. While in jail, he had sent instructions for his diary and important documents to be destroyed. He was assured that it had been done, but it hadn’t. The discovery of these documents in the coal shed led to his incarceration.
  3. Liliesleaf was codenamed Cedric and you can now have light meals and refreshments at Cedric’s Café. It was also called Lil’s Place.
  4. This was supposed to be the last meeting there as they were concerned that their secret hideout would be discovered soon. The meeting was about Operation Mayibuye, their plan to overthrow the government.
  5. Till today, it is not known who informed the police about Liliesleaf. One of the exhibits discusses the possible informers but it remains an unsolved mystery.
  6. It was believed that Radio Freedom was broadcast from here. The ANC used this channel to communicate with their supporters during the apartheid era.
  7. You will find a safari vehicle in one section of the museum. Although it was a front to smuggle weapons and other contraband items between South Africa and neighbouring countries, it was also a genuine overlanding safari company with actual safari tourists.

    Liliesleaf Farm

    Safari Vehicle

  8. There is a conference centre on the premises.

The visit begins with a short movie in the auditorium, which summarises South Africa's apartheid history and culminates in the raid at Liliesleaf Farm. Thereafter you are free to explore the property. The property is well-maintained and there are great audio guides near the exhibits which give detailed accounts of what happened there. Guided tours can also be booked but it is not really necessary. I had goose bumps listening to the audio accounts and even my kids were captivated.

Liliesleaf Farm

The six men in the cottage

Liliesleaf Farm

Interactive Exhibits

I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to visit Liliesleaf. Most Jo’burgers don’t even know about it unfortunately. This is one of Johannesburg’s lesser known attractions but it is a must-visit heritage site in order to understand our history. Expect to spend at least two hours here.

Liliesleaf Farm

Conference Centre

Ticket prices are as follows (2022)

Adults R110
Pensioners R60
Students  R60
8 – 17 years R60
Under 7 years Free

See more things to do in Johannesburg.

Find accommodation in Rivonia .

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Liliesleaf farm

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6 comments on “Things to do in Johannesburg - Liliesleaf Farm”

  1. Dear esteemed visitors

    Indeed a fascinating place, steeped in history. We at Liliesleaf would love to share the heritage site with you. Please visit us to enjoy and experience the interactive exhibits.

  2. Great post, thanks! I would love to visit Liliesleaf one day, I remember reading all about it and the Rivonia Trials in Long Walk to Freedom.

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