In August 1961

the South African Communist Party bought Liliesleaf, a farm at the time on the outskirts of Johannesburg, as a secret meeting place for its leadership. Liliesleaf was the birthplace of the ANC military wing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and evolved into the underground headquarters of its High Command and the leadership of the Congress Alliance.

It was at Liliesleaf that the overthrow of the apartheid regime was discussed, and where the leaders of the liberation movement took refuge in their struggle for a non-racial, just, united and democratic South Africa.

Today, it is a site of memory celebrating the long journey to democracy in South Africa, a journey that is still ongoing. For a key struggle today is the struggle against forgetting.

Why an exhibition on the role of the EU?
This exhibition on the European Union’s contribution to South Africa’s liberation forms part of a series of international solidarity exhibitions at Liliesleaf. These exhibitions are the expression of Liliesleaf’s commitment to ensuring that the role of international solidarity in the fight for freedom and justice is not forgotten.




Liliesleaf is committed to ensuring that the support of the international community for the liberation struggle in South Africa is never forgotten.
We are concerned that today this history has faded from our collective consciousness and holds little meaning, in particular for younger generations.
Gandhi remarked that humanity is an ocean, and that we collectively share the same sea and all that is contained within it. However, this sentiment seems to have little traction today, as our current geopolitical order is characterised not by the ideals that define and shape solidarity, but by an inward-looking, protectionist view, expressed as “I” rather than “we”.

This shift in sentiment away from “we” has in recent years seen a rise in global tensions, with nations seemingly unwilling and unable to collectively address and solve international and inter-regional conflicts.
This exhibition looks specifically at the role of the EU as an institution. Whilst we acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of Member States in ending apartheid, the focus here is not to reflect on the activities of these individual states. Rather, the exhibition focuses on the actions taken within and by the EU from 1985 to 1994 that contributed to the defeat of apartheid, the liberation of South Africa, and the emergence of a new democratic dispensation.




Every once in a while an inspired and unforgettable initiative comes along. In this case, it comes packaged as an exhibition entitled “The EU’s role in overcoming Apartheid”. Following World War II European governments concluded that pooling coal and steel production would make war between historic rivals France and Germany “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. It was also thought, correctly, that merging of economic interests would help raise standards of living and be the first step towards a more united Europe. EU values have been central to its evolution and include human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. These values were also what motivated the EU’s decision in 1985 to institute its €450 million Special Programme for the Victims of Apartheid. While the narrative of this exhibition ends in 1994, it should be noted that the EU not only provided support to democratic forces in the lead-up to South Africa’s momentous transition, but then supported the process of democratic transition. Following the transition, the EU continued to be deeply committed to, and is a close partner of, democratic South Africa.

But back to this exhibition: initial discussions commenced in 2013 between Nic Wolpe (CEO, Liliesleaf Trust) and the EU Delegation. While it took some time to put all the required elements in place, I am delighted that many key players, despite being in retirement and out of public life, were able and willing to assist in capturing the active role the European Union played at the time. Designed as both a permanent and a mobile showcase of the EU’s commitment to the achievement of a democratic South Africa, this exhibition will in time travel to various locations. I take this opportunity to not only record my gratitude to the Liliesleaf team but to express my delight with a project well done: a public record of difficult times that has been compiled with accuracy, simplicity and clarity, and most importantly with understanding. Please engage with the exhibition and allow me to invite you, should you be able to further contribute to the Liliesleaf archive on the EU’s role in overcoming Apartheid, to directly contact the Liliesleaf team in this regard.

We thank the following individuals who gave so generously of their time and knowledge in developing this exhibition:

Produced by the Liliesleaf Trust and Totem Media.

In Europe:

Wim Blonk
Jean-Claude Boidin
Dieter Frisch
Seamus Jeffreson
Lindsay Jones
Mary Manning
Barbara Simons
Peter Sluiter
Erkki Tuomioja

In South Africa:

Achmat Dangor
Horst Kleinschmidt
Pinky Mashigo
Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa
Paul Zille



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