It may be hard to picture the tree-lined suburbs of Johannesburg’s Rivonia as farmland, but just over 40 years ago it was. And Liliesleaf was a farm with a dual purpose: Many of the events that led to the overthrow of apartheid were concocted at Liliesleaf. Its remote location housed clandestine planning meetings and government-opposition discussions by leading members of the ANC during apartheid in the 1960s. Open to the public as a museum since 2008, the multiple farm buildings now house photographs, maps, films and period information that share the history of the rise of apartheid to its eventual collapse, the heritage of the liberation movement and the farm’s unique role in the country’s history.
A visit here begins at the Liberation Centre and its auditorium with a 12-minute introductory film. From there, visitors can guide themselves through the farm’s various spaces or opt for a docent-guided tour. These must be booked at least five days in advance and vary in length from 45 minutes to 3 hours, depending on preference.
One of Liliesleaf’s highlights is the garage area where Nelson Mandela lived under the pseudonym David Motsamayi between 1961 and 1962. Today the building houses exhibits on Radio Freedom and the farm laborers who worked at Liliesleaf unaware of its other use. In July of 1963, police officers arrived concealed in a laundry van and detained of eight key party members in a raid. The event proved a major setback after two years using the space as a headquarters. An entire building is dedicated to the persisting mystery of how exactly the police knew about Liliesleaf, and near the end a four-part film plays on loop, detailing the subsequent prison break by the eight detainees. The onsite Cedric’s Café, named for the farm’s codename, offers light meals and snacks.