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Liliesleaf CEO suspended, plans to turnaround cash-strapped heritage site

The old farm buildings at Liliesleaf Farm, the secret headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe, where in 1963, the Rivonia Trialists were arrested. The farm buildings were revamped and turned into a interactive museum open to the public. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

The old farm buildings at Liliesleaf Farm, the secret headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe, where in 1963, the Rivonia Trialists were arrested. The farm buildings were revamped and turned into a interactive museum open to the public. Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Published Apr 21, 2022

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Johannesburg - Plans are afoot to declare the Liliesleaf Museum as a cultural institution as the arts and culture department, Liliesleaf Board and Freedom Park begin implementing their turnaround strategy to save the cash-strapped heritage site.

In a Parliamentary response to questions posed by EFF MP Constance Nonhlanhla Mkhonto about the department’s involvement in reviving the Liliesleaf heritage site, Minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed that a turnaround strategy was being implemented by the Liliesleaf Board to permanently remedy the crisis in Liliesleaf.

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He also confirmed the suspension of chief executive of the Liliesleaf Trust, Nicholas Wolpe.

Liliesleaf Museum, based in Rivonia in Johannesburg, closed its doors last year after finding itself in a serious financial crisis and was exacerbated by Mthethwa escalating Wolpe’s failure to report and account for the R8.1m to the Liliesleaf board, led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe.

According to the Parliamentary written response, Wolpe’s suspension was based on a forensic investigation report that was launched by the Board on the misappropriation of funds at the Liliesleaf Museum.

Wolpe often spoke candidly about the financial crisis at the Museum and his frustrations with the lack of support from government.

“...the entire arts, culture and heritage sector stood to be destroyed and forgotten, by a failing government.. “ he said at that time.

Last year, when interviewed by IOL, Wolpe said the financial woes were compounded and exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. He said that despite the successful efforts in raising funds from corporates and the public, who showed great generosity in coming to the aid of Liliesleaf, the funds raised only helped so far, and that Liliesleaf had been living on borrowed time ever since.

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In another response to a Parliamentary question, Mthethwa said the R 7m allocated to assist Liliesleaf was not deposited into its own Trust Account but rather into the account of Freedom Park.

“The funds were paid into the account of Freedom Park because the Liliesleaf Board is still implementing the recommendations of the Board’s investigation on the funding that it had received in 2015,” Mthethwa said.

Liliesleaf Farm served as the secret headquarters and nerve centre for the ANC, SACP, Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Congress Alliance, between 1961 and 1963.

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It was at Liliesleaf farm that plans to overthrow the apartheid regime were discussed, and where leaders of the liberation movement took refuge in their Struggle for a non-racial, just, free, and democratic South Africa.

A police raid on July 11, 1963, saw the arrest of the underground leadership, which set in motion the infamous Rivonia Trial.

Post apartheid, Liliesleaf was home to extraordinary exhibitions that told the story of the journey to democracy in South Africa.

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