January 7: Liliesleaf and the Secret Hideouts

Today we went to Liliesleaf museum to take a look at the secret hideouts in which members of the ANC came to congregate and discuss politics. This was an area in which many of the 12 people were arrested who later faced charges on the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Unlike others who were arrested in Liliesleaf, Nelson Mandela was already in prison during the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela was originally arrested in 1962 when the government realized that he had a fake passport to travel in and out of the country and went by the alias David Mobsari. Eight of the men who stood trial in Rivonia, including Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life in prison. They were in chance of getting the death penalty at the time. One of the key people in helping Nelson Mandela avoid punishment by death was a man named Bram Fischer.

Bram Fischer was a white man who was born into a position of power, for both his father and grandfather held political positions during the Apartheid era. It would have been very easy for Bram to follow in their footsteps and continue the cycle of oppression of black South Africans. He decided however, to turn against the system which supported him in favor of the majority of people who were oppressed.

Fischer studied at Oxford and when he came back, his political ideology had a major shift. After returning from school, Fischer joined the Communist Party of South Africa which was later banned in 1950 by the South African government. Bram Fischer was the lawyer who represented the 8 men on the Rivonia trial, and because of his efforts, none of them were sentenced to death, but rather to life in prison.

Bram Fischer was later arrested in 1964 due to his political affiliation and later died in prison in 1975. In 1995, while Mandela was president, Mandela offered praise to Bram Fischer for his bravery in helping people in the struggle rather than conforming to the system which benefitted himself:

“Bram was a courageous man who followed the most difficult course any person could choose to follow.”

– Nelson Mandela, 1995

Mandela even referred to Bram being more courageous to himself, for Mandela said he “fought for his people,” while Bram made the difficult choice of sacrifice and “fought against his people.” What is learned from all of this is that had it not been for Bram, Mandela may have never survived through incarceration and fulfill his mission to his country.

Prior to his incarceration, Mandela traveled to many countries outside of South Africa to gain support for the ANC. These countries included: Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, and even the United Kingdom.

During Mandela’s incarceration, the Morogoro Conference was held in Morogoro, Tanzania in 1969. This was a conference in support of the development of the ANC throughout the African continent. Many of the Northern countries in Africa were already liberated at this time. Ghana was one of the first African countries to be liberated from European imperialism in 1957. The liberation of Ghana set off a chain reaction, as many other countries gained independence shortly after. Because of their past struggles, they felt sympathy towards South Africa, which was still under the system of Apartheid.

Representatives from South Africa came to represent an Anti-apartheid branch known as Umkhonto we Sizwe, or “Spear of the Nation.” Oliver Tambo was present at the conference in support of Unkhonto we Sizwe, and he said:

“Close Ranks! This is the order to our people; our youth; the army; to each Umkhonto we Sizwe militant; to all our many supporters the world over. This is the order to our leaders; to all of us. The order that comes from this conference is: Close Ranks and intensify the Armed Struggle!”

The biggest result of the Morogoro Conference was that for the first time, the ANC was truly established as a legitimate, international political organization. The continent of Africa, and eventually other countries from other continents around the world, rallied in support of the Free Mandela campaigned and placed economic pressure for South Africa to end Apartheid government.

One last valuable highlight of Liliesleaf was the display of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter was a statement of what the ANC believed in, which was political freedom for all South Africans and the end of Apartheid policies. The South African government banned the Freedom Charter, for they claimed that the policies outlined in it could not be achieved unless through violent means. South African media distorted the meaning and intent of the ANC, and labeled leaders of the ANC like Nelson Mandela as terrorists.

Like previous days, I am coming to a realization that although Mandela was very effective in gaining support through his incarceration, it took many other people around the world and in South Africa to help the ANC succeed in gaining political power and ending the evils of Apartheid.


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