Johannesburg - The news this week that Liliesleaf Farm is to close indefinitely, ostensibly yet another victim of the pandemic and its associated lockdown, is very sad. The fact that the announcement was made in the month in which South Africans are gifted a public holiday to celebrate their heritage made the announcement all the more poignant.
It’s an incredibly important historical site; it was the underground headquarters of the ANC’s armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe and the nerve centre for the congress alliance’s struggle against apartheid between 1961 and 1963.
Unlike other older museums which are often forbidding to anyone but the keenest academic, the modern restoration rendered the site accessible to young and old, creating exhibitions that were easy to understand as well as providing conferencing facilities for think tanks.
Perhaps its most important role in today’s increasingly fractured and fractious atmosphere is to remind us all of the non-racial nature of the armed struggle against apartheid. In a time when demagogues increasingly seek to play identity politics to pander to our baser instincts and once glorious histories are tarnished by tales of mismanagement, corruption and venality, Liliesleaf stands as a monument to a period when the good of the greater number trumped the good of the individual – even if the price for that was death by hanging.
The Liliesleaf story though is threatening to morph into all the other South African tragedies, with accusations of non-support countered by accusations of bad financial management. Liliesleaf needs to be saved not just now, but for posterity, but it also needs to be run properly – if necessary, under different control than the current structure.
A war of words will solve nothing, only hasten the demise of an irreplaceable national treasure. It’s time for the members of the trust to stand up and take charge while there is still time.