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Apartheid Icon Will Not Commemorate 50th Anniversary Of His Arrest At Liliesleaf Farm

posted 11 Jul 2013, 10:41 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 11 Jul 2013, 10:42 ]

Survivors of the 1963 Rivonia Trials that sentenced Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government commemorate the 50th anniversary of their arrest without 'accused number one' who will be spending his 34th night in hospital.

 RIVONIA, JOHANNESBURGSOUTH AFRICA (JULY 11, 2013) (REUTERS) -  On July 11, 1963, police raided the Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, north ofJohannesburg - the 'nerve centre' of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Liliesleaf was the headquarters of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated to MK and meaning Spear of the Nation), and was a place where its leaders would often take refuge.

On that day, 50 years ago, police hid in a laundry van, drove up to the farm and launched the raid that led to the arrest of 18 activists including Walter Sisulu,Govan Mbeki, father of South Africa's former president Thabo MbekiJo Slovo andArthur Goldreich.

Security forces said they'd hit the jackpot - in a single blow they had captured the entire ANC leadership and the organisation's most prominent leaders.

Former South African president and global icon Nelson Mandela, who today is fighting for his life in a Pretoria hospital under the glare of the world's media, was already in prison at the time of the raid. But he was tried under the same Rivonia trial where he was known as 'accused number one'. Many of those found guilty of sabotage spent over 25 years in prison.

Eight out of the 10 accused were sentenced to life imprisonment - Nelson Mandelaand seven other senior political leaders. Two were acquitted.

The Liliesleaf trust explains to visitors that the Rivonia trial came to represent the essence of the liberation struggle. It also focused world attention on South Africabecause of the media attention it received but also because of the harsh sentencing of the accused. The 'Rivonia Trialists', as they became known, turned into international icons of South Africa's struggle against the oppressive white regime.

It was at Liliesleaf farm where the high command met to plan Operation Mayibuye - the plan to overthrow the apartheid regime. The outhouse buildings on Liliesleaf housed the printing presses which were producing freedom literature; And it was from the brick structure that the inhabitants of the farm broadcast the first test of radio freedom using the lightening conductor as an Arial transmitter.

The activists also held key debates on political and military policy and strategy.

Mandela occasionally sought shelter at the farm.

Fifty years on there are only 4 survivors: Ahmed KathradaAndrew Mlangeni andDenis Goldberg and Bob Hepple. Hepple would have been in the dock with the others had he not escaped.

"This place, Liliesleaf farm, and our arrest in 1963, I think it was a big occasion an occasion which I believe expedited our democracy because if we were not arrested I don't think we would be where we are today" said Mlangeni who was due to attend a special gala at the farm,"

Hepple said Mandela would be sorely missed at their reunion on Thursday night for a special commemorative gala at the farm which president Jacob Zuma was due to address.

"Its a sad coincidence that he can't be with us and that he is in hospital today but of course all our thoughts are with him and his family," said Hepple.

The farm is now a museum with interactive digital displays explaining the history of the political struggle.

It also shows the evidence the police recovered from there which prosecutors used to convict the Rivonia trialists.

For many visitors it is an place to reflect on the sacrifices of the leaders whose fight and imprisonment led to the downfall of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president.

Trucks used to smuggled weapons Operation Mayibuye, the plan to overthrow the Apartheid Government, are parked in the farm today.

The 11th July meeting had been organised to discuss Operation Mayibuye. The plan had been originated by Govan Mbeki and Joe Slovo, and was so secret that only Nelson Mandela and a handful of his colleagues in the armed wing of the ANC knew of it.

It had been decided to move to another location but it was too late: Police had already received a tip-off that Walter Sisulu would be at Liliesleaf. Walter Sisuluhad gone into hiding as result of a previous conviction, and was facing a five year jail term.

Sipho Mabuse was a political activist one decade after the arrest in 1976. Though saddened by Mandela's illness he says his memory will live on for always.

"He still remains the guiding light irrespective of whether he is affected by an illness or not. At the same time his presence amongst us makes a lot of people think by the way, there is a man who is lying there, who has done so much for this country, whose power does not only lie in politics but from his soul," said Sipho Mabuse.

"Being here physically you get some sort of experience what people had to go through, the sacrifices they had to make and just the continuous tension of getting to where they wanted to go even though they didn't get it because obviously they got caught, but still the excitement of it you get to understand," said a student,Zamakwendwezi Hlope.

Thursday's events will include the launch of a medallion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the raid, the escape from Marshall Square police station in centralJohannesburg and the trial.