Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

South African heritage site Liliesleaf closes indefinitely

Published on: 5 September, 2021


Liliesleaf, outside Johannesburg [Courtesy of Nick Wolpe]

Liliesleaf, outside Johannesburg [Courtesy of Nick Wolpe]

Liliesleaf, one of South Africa’s foremost heritage sites has announced it is closing indefinitely.

Liliesleaf is situated in the north of Johannesburg in the suburb of Rivonia.

In a statement released by Liliesleaf, it said it had faced a funding crisis for several years.

‘[This] has been compounded and exacerbated by the impact of Covid. Despite the successful efforts in raising funds from corporates and the public, who showed great generosity in coming to the aid of Liliesleaf, earlier in the year through a crowdfunding initiative, the funds raised only helped so far. Liliesleaf has been living on borrowed time ever since,’ it added.

The museum criticised the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture for not providing adequate funding. Liliesleaf has not received funding from the Department since 2015.


Between 1961 and 1963 Liliesleaf was the secret headquarters for the ANC, the ANC’s military wing Umkonto weSizwe and the South African Communist Party.

The ANC leader Nelson Mandela needed a safe place from which to operate, and lived on the farm Liliesleaf under the assumed name of David Motsamayi, a farmer hired to work on the farm.

In 1963, the South African police raided the farm, arresting more than a dozen ANC leaders and activists, who were then tried and prosecuted during the Rivonia Trial.


Nick Wolpe, CEO of Liliesleaf [Courtesy of Nicholas Wolpe]

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nick Wolpe, CEO of Liliesleaf, said: ‘It has always been a struggle to keep Liliesleaf open. It has been especially difficult to secure operational funding.’

According to Wolpe the closure demonstrates ‘the failure of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture towards the sector in its totality.’

According to Wolpe the Department claims it will financially support Liliesleaf if it declares itself a ‘cultural institution’. Liliesleaf has however long been reluctant to do so.  ‘It means the state owns you. The state can then appoint the CEO and other officers’, says Wolpe.

On its part the Department said that despite Liliesleaf being a private institution, the Department never stopped supporting it.

Speaking to news24 Wolpe said: ‘People didn’t know about Liliesleaf and I wanted to inspire people through this. It captured a very important moment in our history. No one knew about the people involved in this struggle and the intimate discussions that happened at Liliesleaf’.