This Day in Black History: July 11, 1963

South African police raid Lilliesleaf farm, a safe house for anti-apartheid leaders.

Posted: 07/11/2013 03:30 PM EDT

On July 11, 1963, the South African police launched a surprise attack on Lilliesleaf Farm and nearly ended the anti-apartheid movement by incarcerating several heads of Spear of the Nation, the militant wing of the African National Congress.

The authorities seized valuable intelligence and convicted Nelson Mandela and several other men of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. In 1962, Mandela was arrested for minor offenses. But it was the Rivonia Trial of 1963, in response to the farm raid, where he was sentenced to life in prison.

The raid on Lilliesleaf Farm was an instrumental event in the history of South African anti-apartheid. To forget Lilliesleaf would be, in the words of Professor Richard Hull of New York University, “a serious omission.”

In fact, Hull speculates, “If Mandela had not been arrested and imprisoned, one wonders if he would have lived for many more years because South African security forces became more vicious and repressive [after Liliesleaf].”

The decades after the raid were marked by an “acceleration and erosion” of the civil rights of anti-apartheid activists. It is speculated that the government would have likely silenced Mandela by assassination, had he not been in jail, as they did the anti-apartheid leader, Steve Biko.

Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation. The group worked in secret on Lilliesleaf Farm just outside Johannesburg between 1961 and 1963. In 1961, they began guerrilla attacks on key government infrastructural installations.

Today, Lilliesleaf Farm is a popular attraction commemorating the efforts of those ANC leaders who fought apartheid.

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(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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