Today in history: 55 years ago 10 freedom fighters were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm

Today, Liliesleaf Farm is a heritage site to recognise the role it played in the liberation movement.

Fifty-five years ago, on 11 July 1963 high-ranking members of Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested during a raid of Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia.

It is a day that will forever be marked in South African history books as the start of a process which eventually saw Nelson Mandela and seven other freedom fighters sentenced to life in prison.

Alongside Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi, Denis Goldberg, James Kantor and Lionel Bernstein faced various charges including recruiting persons for training to use explosives and guerrilla warfare for the purpose of a violent revolution, conspiring to commit these acts and aiding foreign military, acting to further the objects of communism and soliciting and receiving money from foreign sympathisers.

According to South African History Online, the 60s marked an important watershed in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid. The aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre and the declaration of the subsequent State of Emergency in March 1960 signalled the beginning of a brutal and intensive phase of state repression.

With members of liberation organisations forced underground, leaders of the African National Congress eventually formed its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. It aimed to fight against oppression by the apartheid government by mainly using homemade incendiary devices to damage public facilities.

Liliesleaf Farm, which was isolated at the time, was purchased by members of the South African Communist Party and members of Umkhonto we Sizwe to be used as a meeting place. Arthur Goldreich, a painter and anti-apartheid activist, and his family lived in the main farmhouse, while the outhouses were used as a meeting place.

Acting on information from an informant, the Special Forces raided the Liliesleaf and found a group of men studying Operation Mayibuye, a proposal for guerrilla warfare, insurrection and revolution.

Hundreds of incriminating documents were found during the raid, and members of the group were immediately arrested.

The trial ended on 12 June 1964, with the court sentencing eight of the men to life imprisonment.

Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni, Goldberg and Mhlaba were found guilty on all four counts.

Kathrada was found guilty on one charge of conspiracy. Bernstein was found not guilty but was later rearrested, released on bail, and placed under house arrest. Soon afterwards he fled the country. Kantor was the only accused discharged at the end of the prosecution’s case.

Details: Liliesleaf Farm 11 803 7882.

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  AUTHOR
Laura Pisanello

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