Heritage site Liliesleaf has closed down, despite fund raising efforts earlier this year
Share this article:
Johannesburg - Heritage Month has started on a sad note after Liliesleaf, one of South Africa’s foremost national heritage sites, announced that it had been forced to close its doors indefinitely.
Liliesleaf is a heritage site in Rivonia which is home to exhibitions that tell the story of the journey to democracy in South Africa. However, recently the site has faced a funding crisis, which was compounded and exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Between 1961 and 1963, Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia served as the secret headquarters and nerve centre of the ANC, the SACP, Umkhonto weSizwe and the Congress Alliance.
The location further cemented its place in South Africa’s Struggle history when on July 1963, the apartheid police raided the farm and arrested ten leaders who were the core leadership of the underground liberation movement.
The raid set the stage for the Rivonia Trial when Nelson Mandela and other struggle stalwarts, including Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada were found guilty of sabotage.
Earlier this year, Liliesleaf was closed for operations because the Liliesleaf Trust was unable to pay salaries to about 30 staffers or purchase anything.
Liliesleaf Trust founder and chief executive Nicholas Wolpe, a descendant of one of the Rivonia accused, Harold Wolpe, made an appeal for contributions to keep Liliesleaf going and to preserve the site’s artefacts and exhibitions to sustain operations.
In May, there were several calls for the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to urgently produce a plan to save independent and state-owned museums, institutions and historic sites in South Africa as a matter of urgency.
“Those making their living from the sectors have lost their homes, their income and many are starving. Museums and heritage sites are now following in those tragic footsteps,” the DA’s Veronica van Dyk said.
“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,” Wolpe said on Tuesday.
The chief executive said that the closure of Liliesleaf demonstrated the “abject failure” of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to provide the financial support so desperately needed by the sector as a whole.
“People don’t put heritage as a major priority and because it’s not seen as a priority - and the reason it’s not seen as a priority is because it’s not given priority status by the government,” Wolpe told The Star yesterday (Wed).
He said that the perception was that the state trivialised and dismissed heritage sites and that this trickled into the perception of South African citizens.
“It’s not that things went wrong, It’s quite the contrary. It’s just the fact that people don’t give it the priority it requires. We were able to raise sufficient funds to keep us going until now, so we were effectively on life support and oxygen - but that oxygen was eventually going to run out,” he said.
Wolpe said Liliesleaf was symptomatic of a deeper underlying structural problem that faced the heritage sector. “We cannot continue in the same vein,” he said.