Mystery of Madiba’s gun


On a freezing night David Motsamayi walked 20 paces from the kitchen door of the Liliesleaf farmhouse and started digging. When the hole was chest deep he lowered a parcel into it and filled it again.

The package buried on the farm in Rivonia near Johannesburg in 1962 contained a Russian-made Makarov pistol, 200 rounds of ammunition and secret Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) documents. The pistol had been given to him by Ethiopian mentors during his clandestine military training in that country.

Two weeks later Motsamayi was arrested and revealed to be Nelson Mandela. Within a year he’d been tried on charges of terrorism and treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

Now the buried pistol and documents are the focus of a treasure hunt by collectors, fortune-seekers and the Liliesleaf Trust, which wants to preserve them.

Gun collectors and the Liliesleaf Trust say the pistol could be worth up to R22 million because it’s widely believed to be the first weapon that featured in the armed struggle against apartheid.

Over the years Liliesleaf farm was subdivided although the original farmhouse still exists, owned and run by the Liliesleaf Trust.

But the spot where the pistol is thought to be buried is on pensioner Al Leenstra’s neighbouring property, probably beneath his house. Liliesleaf Trust CEO Nicholas Wolpe has unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to sell his property to the trust at market value.

The house is about to be auctioned and the High Street Auction Company’s Joff van Reenen says local and foreign buyers are interested.

Wolpe says, ‘‘If it’s (the pistol and documents) on our property we’ll find it and keep it here in its rightful home, South Africa. If not we can only hold thumbs whoever finds it has a scrap of decency and hands it over to the trust and to the people of this country.’’

Read the full article in YOU, 5 May 2011.

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