Borders village celebrating links with Nelson Mandela

Former South African president Nelson Mandela.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela.
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Lilliesleaf is throwing a tea party to celebrate its links with former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Lilliesleaf, Ashkirk and Midlem Community Council is inviting villagers to the celebration next Thursday, May 25, from 4pm to 5pm.

Scotland's Lilliesleaf.

Scotland's Lilliesleaf.

It will be held in the Currie Memorial Hall in Lilliesleaf, and among those there will be Nic Wolpe, chief executive of an anti-apartheid museum in South Africa at Liliesleaf, a farm named after the Borders village once home to Mandela.

Council chairperson Carolyn Riddell-Carre said: “There is a small farm in South Africa near Johannesburg called Liliesleaf. It was called after our Lilliesleaf, and that was where Nelson Mandela had once worked before being imprisoned on Robben Island.

“That Liliesleaf, and that is how they spell it, is now a museum which celebrates the anti-apartheid movement.

“Now, the chief executive of the museum is coming to the UK and is specially coming north to visit Lilliesleaf. The community council is going to host a tea party for him before giving him a tour of the village.

Community council chairperson Carolyn Riddell-Carre.

Community council chairperson Carolyn Riddell-Carre.

“It should be a really interesting gathering.

“There is a lady living in the village who is a great-niece of the Miss Redford who owned the South African farm of Liliesleaf. When we told Nic this, he was really delighted and is much looking forward to meeting her.

“We are asking him to give us a short talk about his Liliesleaf and John Dent, a retired archaeologist for Scottish Borders Council who lives in the village, is going to give a short talk about ours.

“We think it is rather like a twinning and an entirely proper use of our funds, so we are not going to charge for attending the party.

“Though they have lost their second ‘l’, the farm in South Africa is named after our Lilliesleaf.

“It was bought in the early 1960s by a Scottish couple who had lived near Lilliesleaf. They later sold the farm to a white South African who was an anti-apartheid sympathiser.

“His farm was used as a secret rendezvous for the early African National Council, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others. Mandela writes about how he was disguised in blue overalls as a farm labourer.

“South African intelligence eventually discovered the hideaway, and they were all arrested, leading to Mandela’s banishment to Robben Island.”

Lord Steel of Aikwood, the former Liberal Democrat MP visited the South African museum in March and brought back with him mementos as gifts for the community council.

“The farm was named after the Borders village of Lilliesleaf because it had been bought in the early sixties by a family named Fyffe who had lived near the village,” he said.

“They subsequently sold it to a South African who provided the secluded hiding place where Nelson Mandela wore blue overalls as a disguised farm labourer.”

Mandela, president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, died in 2013 at the age of 95.

For catering purposes, anyone planning to go along next Thursday is asked to email council secretary Clare Hay at lamccsecretary@gmail.com or ring her on 07932 862021 by this Saturday, May 20.