By Mbangwa Xaba

Renowned poet, writer, uMkhoto weSizwe (MK) veteran and struggle stalwart, Mongane Wally Serote has called for level headedness as the South African liberation struggle’s foremost heritage site, Liliesleaf, shuts its doors. Last week, as the country entered Heritage Month, the Chief Executive

Officer of the Liliesleaf Trust, Nicholas Wolpe, dropped a bombshell by announcing the ‘indefinite closure of Liliesleaf’.
The announcement sparked a war of words over the funds for the iconic site between the Liliesleaf Trust management and the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture (DASC).

Wolpe fired the first salvo by taking swipe at the DASC in a statement saying the closure of the museum was long-time coming because it (the museum) had faced a funding crisis for several years.

Nicholas Wolpe

“The closure of Liliesleaf has yet again demonstrated the abject failure of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to provide the financial support so desperately needed by Liliesleaf and the sector as a whole at this critical time in our history and struggle for survival.

“[This] has been compounded and exacerbated by the impact of Covid. Despite the successful efforts in raising funds from corporates and the public, who showed great generosity in coming to the aid of Liliesleaf, earlier in the year through a crowdfunding initiative, the funds raised only helped so far,” said Wolpe.

“Liliesleaf has been living on borrowed time ever since.”

Wolpe took the DASC to task for not providing adequate relief.

The DASC punched back charging at Wolpe for his shoddy accounting for the funds it has provided.

“The Department of Sport, Arts and Culture takes a dim view of the recently published media release headlined “Liliesleaf closes indefinitely”, issued under the name of Nicholas Wolpe, founder and CEO of Liliesleaf Trust.

“DSAC has funded Liliesleaf in the range of R70 million, over a period of 13 years. For the 2020/2021 financial year, an additional R1,8 million was budgeted for the trust. All this is being done against an understanding of the historical significance and contribution of Liliesleaf to the liberation of our country,” said the DSAC.

“In 2015 the DSAC entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Liliesleaf Trust to upgrade and enhance the facility’s exhibition infrastructure. Based on this contract of R9 million, a first tranche of R8,1 million was transferred to the trust. The remaining R900,000 could not be honoured due to failure of Liliesleaf Trust to account on the initial payment of R8,1 million.

“An obligation was spelt out in the MoA between the DSAC and Liliesleaf Trust. In terms of the PFMA Section 38, government cannot continue funding an institution that fails to account for public funds that it receives from government,” the DASC continued. Wolpe countered by saying the accusation by the DASC levelled against him that he failed to account for the R8,1m of the R9m Liliesleaf received in 2015, was devoid of any truth.

“I am deeply saddened by this accusation and claim which is factually misleading and incorrect. The reality is at the beginning of December 2015 I submitted to the Department of Arts and Culture a Financial Report and a Narrative Report clearly setting out how the funds were spent in accordance with DASC requirements.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JUNE 10: Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg, two of the three surviving defendants in the Rivonia Trial, on June 10, 2014 at Liliesleaf farm outisde Johannesburg, South Africa. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the guilty verdict a limited number of Rivonia Ten Gold medallions, signed by the two men, were auctioned off with all proceeds going to the Liliesleaf trust and the South African Gold Coin Exchange bursary scheme. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo)

“The Department rejected the Reports and requested Liliesleaf submit Reports that spoke directly to the MoU, which I was unwilling to do as I didn’t want to lie or in the process perjure either myself or Liliesleaf,” said Wolpe.

He further said the department informed him that Liliesleaf would not receive the outstanding balance of the R9m, this being R900,000.
“When I informed the trustees of such, they made it clear it was not worth getting into a scrap with the Department over the outstanding balance of R900,000.

“Therefore, for the department and minister to claim that Liliesleaf failed to account ‘for public funds that it receives from government’ is misleading and incorrect.

“In fact, when I met with the DDG of Heritage, along with other departmental officials in July 2020, they again claimed Liliesleaf had not submitted a Financial Report and Narrative Report as to how the funds were spent. I yet again indicated that Liliesleaf had in fact done so,” he said.

Serote urged the two parties to find a solution because Liliesleaf must be saved despite the disputes. “The board and the DSAC must bring heads together motivated by the understanding that this heritage symbol is one of the most important pinnacles of the liberation struggle of our country,” said Serote.

Liliesleaf Farm

He pointed out that the site had created the foundation for non-racialism by creating the Anti-Apartheid Movement the length and breadth of the world.

“Liliesleaf is not only a national heritage, it is of the people of the world. Easily the vision of the leaders who led the ANC from Liliesleaf laid the references of liberation struggles in the world at the highest levels in the world because of the qualitative leaps which were as a result of their vision as to what South Africa must be after her liberation, e.g. the National Constitution, whose foundation is the Freedom Charter and the fact that the ANC is one of the few, if ever, liberation Movement whose armed wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, which had its leadership resident at Liliesleaf, launched and conducted a restricted armed struggle,” he said.

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