Mandela incognito

2012-07-14 15:37

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Only after his arrest near Howick in August 1962 did the people of Rivonia realise who ‘David’ was, writes Lucas Ledwaba.

Nelson Mandela sometimes put on blue workman’s overalls and walked around Rivonia selling vegetables.

His customers in the upmarket neighbourhood of farming and equestrian estates included police officers and a senior state prosecutor.

They all knew the pleasant, well-spoken fellow as David Motsamayi, a general hand at nearby Liliesleaf farm.

It was only after his arrest near Howick, KwaZulu Natal, on August 5 1962, that the people of Rivonia realised that the “pleasant fellow David” had in fact been a guerilla leader on the run from the security police.

“Percy Yutar was actually quite angry during the Rivonia trial because he lived in the neighbourhood and had bought vegetables from David,” said Zein Khumalo, the curator at Liliesleaf Farm, which is now a national heritage site and museum.

Yutar was the state prosecutor in the Rivonia trial where Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and six others were sentenced to life in jail in July 1964.

This week marked the 49th anniversary of the day Liliesleaf was raided by police, who managed to arrest the entire Umkhonto weSizwe high command.

Mandela lived on the property, which was used as a safe house for the banned ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) between October 1961 and January 1962.

Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada, who were also wanted by police, also stayed at Liliesleaf in the thatch-roofed house on the property.

The story of Liliesleaf is told in a gripping three-hour tour incorporating an impressive display of photographs, newspaper cuttings, voice-overs and video interviews.

The buildings, including the outbuilding where Mandela slept, have been restored to their original state.

The chair and table where Mandela spent hours plotting the downfall of the apartheid regime occupy pride of place opposite a huge black-and-white photograph of him.

But it is the David Motsamayi story that shows just how far Mandela pushed his luck while hiding from the police.

He was banned at the time for furthering the aims of the ANC, then a banned organisation, and for inciting workers across the country to strike.

Neighbour Norma Kitson says in one of the displays: “He would often come to the back door to have a chat, sometimes we gave him food or a drink. He was always a pleasant fellow and well spoken.”

One day Mandela’s cover was almost blown by a child of Arthur Goldreich, an SACP activist who lived in the main house with his family.

The boy had found a copy of Drum magazine in his parents’ bedroom and while paging through it, spotted a picture of Mandela, whom he recognised.

He went into the garden where his parents and Mandela were chatting to verify his discovery – but his father took him to the river for a talk and he never mentioned his discovery again.

But it was another child, 10-year-old George Mellis, a playmate of the Goldreich children, who finally set the security police on Liliesleaf.

He went home one day and told his parents he had seen “bantu men and whites shaking hands and hugging” at the farm.

They told him to write down the registration numbers of all vehicles that came to the farm, and they handed them over to the police. Liliesleaf was doomed.

On July 11 1963, after months of surveillance, police pounced and found the MK high command holding what was to be their last meeting there before moving to another safe house.

At the time, Mandela was serving a five-year prison term for leaving the country without a permit, and he was charged together with his comrades and sentenced to life imprisonment a year later.

He was linked to them through his handwritten documents found at Liliesleaf.

But in the room where Mandela once lived, police found only a container of sour milk.

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