Picture: Supplied

Pretoria - Nic Wolpe, CEO of the Liliesleaf Trust, was honoured with a knighthood on behalf of the King of Sweden by Swedish Ambassador Cecilia Julin at her residence on Tuesday night in Pretoria. The prestigious Order of the Polar Star is a Swedish order of chivalry created by King Frederick I in 1748, and is bestowed on foreigners who further Swedish interests, and widen economic, political, social and cultural relations with Sweden.

“Nic and Liliesleaf are devoted to memory against forgetting. You have carried the flag for Sweden and taken our partnership forward. Liliesleaf is a home away from home, and now you are an official Ambassador for Sweden,” Ambassador Julin said.

“This is not an honour for me,” Wolpe said, “it is not an honour of a personal nature, but for the work Liliesleaf is doing. It is also a recognition of my father’s contribution to the struggle.”

Howard Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich had purchased Liliesleaf farm in 1961 in a suburb of Rivonia as the headquarters for the underground Communist Party. It later became the birthplace of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and Wolpe was MK’s first chief of intelligence. The farm was raided by the apartheid regime in 1963, and the MK High Command arrested.

It was Harold’s son Nic Wolpe who, in 2002, urged the ANC to buy the property back due to its historical significance. The 28 acre farm had been sub-divided over the years and sold off, but by 2008 the Liliesleaf Trust had managed to buy back eight properties.

Liliesleaf is now a heritage site and resource centre with a library and more than 500 hours of oral history. Its exhibitions have drawn national and international attention, and it is rated as one of the top things to do in Johannesburg.

Nic Wolpe has dedicated his work at Liliesleaf to preserving history and memory. A letter written by his ailing mother AnnMarie was read out at the knighthood ceremony and said that she was heartbroken to be unable to attend the event. “When Nic was six months old he nearly died of pneumonia, but he had a remarkable will to live. This will has resulted in this remarkable order,” she said.

“Liliesleaf was an incubator for our struggle,” Nic Wolpe said at the ceremony, “and showed that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.” He quoted Dr Martin Luther King’s statement “I have a dream that one day children will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“We are failing to deliver on the criteria of a nonracial, nonsexist South Africa,” Wolpe lamented, “We cannot pretend that we are not failing to achieve the objectives that Liliesleaf represents.

Independent Foreign Service