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Squabble over Mandela's missing gun

Andrew Harding | 11:39 UK time, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Just received an angry call, followed by an even angrier press release, from the people who run one of South Africa's most historic pieces of real estate - Liliesleaf Farm north of Johannesburg. Words like "belligerent," "greediness," and "selfish," are being thrown about - all because of a squabble over the search for Nelson Mandela's old pistol - an item of "sentimental importance" to the elderly liberation hero.

Several anti-apartheid activists were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Liliesleaf Trust

During the struggle against apartheid, the Communist Party, and then the armed wing of the banned ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe, used the farm buildings as their headquarters. Mr Mandela famously spent time in hiding there disguised as a labourer - and in July 1963 many of his closest colleagues were arrested at the farm. One of them, Ahmed Kathrada recently showed me the window he tried to escape through. He was caught and ended up in the dock together with Mr Mandela. The infamous Rivonia trial was named after the farm's location.

Over the years, Mr Mandela has frequently mentioned that while on the run from the security services - and dubbed the Black Pimpernel by the media - he buried a treasured souvenir - his semi-automatic Makarov pistol somewhere on the property. But where? Various elderly struggle heroes have pointed in different directions, and the gun has yet to be found.

The Trust - which now manages that farm as a tourism, legacy and resource centre - has for some time been negotiating access to what is considered a promising spot - which is now part of an adjoining property - with a view to sending in an expert with a high-powered metal detector.

But according to the Trust's Nicholas Wolpe, the neighbour recently sent him a lawyer's letter, refusing further access "for any reason whatsoever" and insisting that the Trust must instead buy the property for 3m rand ($270,000; £435,000).

In response, Mr Wolpe accused the owner of backtracking and "greediness," in trying to "exploit the situation," as well as "a total lack of respect for the significance of this historical project which has now been bought (sic) to an abrupt and premature halt."

Although the gun has historic value, Mr Wolpe has made it clear that his primary concern is to find it while Mr Mandela is still alive - and able to see it himself. "Recent events surrounding Mr Mandela's health," he said in a statement, made the Trust "extremely keen to uncover" its whereabouts.

Bobbie Lanham-Love, a lawyer representing the neighbour - Al Leenstra - told me his "fairly elderly" client has "nothing cynical in his intentions, and has been bending over backwards to do what's right," and "simply wishes to put the deal to bed." He accused Mr Wolpe of threatening to "play dirty."


  • Comment number 1.

    I am so pleased that the trust is taking time to find the weapons of such a famous terrorist. I think we should do the same in the UK, lets find and put on display the weapons and equipment of prominent IRA leaders, since we seem to think that worshipping people who are terrorists is acceptable. People understand what you are reading here. Nelson Mandela, regardless of if his views were correct or incorrect was a terrorist. Innocent women and children died by his hands. We should remove his statue from Parliment Square.

  • Comment number 2.

    If as you say the gun was buried in the property, it is highly unlikely that it will/can be found. I am guessing most likely someone found it at the time and used it against the struggle

  • Comment number 3.

    *for the struggle* not against:)

  • Comment number 4.

    Words like "belligerent," "greediness," and "selfish," are being thrown about - all because of a squabble over Nelson Mandela's old pistol - an item of "sentimental importance" to the liberation hero.
    Mr Mandela has frequently mentioned that he buried the treasured souvenir - his semi-automatic Makarov Pistol somewhere on the Rivonia farm.
    But where?
    Have we never heard of grid searches and metal detectors?
    Oh, I see that we have: The Trust - which is now part of an adjoining property - is considering sending in an expert with a high-powered metal detector.
    The neighbour is refusing access "for any reason whatsoever" and insisting that the Trust must instead buy the property for 3m rand ($270,000; £435,000). Well now, this seems like a situation for the Courts; after all, the gun is the property of Mr. Mandella. Mr. Mandella doesn't want the farm - just his gun. If I left my valued diamond ring at your house and you would not return unless I bought your house, I would take you to court to return my property. (You begin to see how luducrously this neightbor is behaving.)
    Bobbie Lanham-Love, a lawyer representing the neighbour - Al Leenstra - told me his "fairly elderly" client has "nothing cynical in his intentions, and has been bending over backwards to do what's right."
    The right thing is to allow a high-powered metal detector onto the site so that Mr. Mandela may convince himself once and for all whether the correct site has been found.
    The neighbor is being totally unreasonable. Take him to court!

  • Comment number 5.

    BluesBerry, you are obviously unaware of the law regarding fire arms in South Africa. Should Mr Mandela have this weapon he would be arrested for having an unlicensed fire arm. Passably the rest of SA and the Trust should forget this issue and move onto more pushing issues in SA like poverty and AIDS and not a fire arm used for terrorist activity's back in the 60's.
    Lets concentrate on the future and not on the past as mistakes were made back then and life in SA would have been on a different level compared to today's life in SA.

  • Comment number 6.

    well i really don't think that thats the best thing to do now there are crucial things like health especially AIDS that needs to be addressed not a historical gun.

  • Comment number 7.

    Those of you that are pointing a negative finger at Mandela should relax. His gun is important because it is part of his history and that of South Africa in general. I ask you this... what would your argument be regarding George Washington (1st president of the U.S.A.)
    Your views of Mandela applies to him too. He was a terrorist fighting for freedom for Americans!!! Britain was the America of his time but he stood up and fought them. And look where we are today. Mind you Mandela did his part because white people were killing his people on African soil. The American revolution started primarily due to "taxation without representation" not murder or lynching. I rest my case. Neighbour.... please grant access so they can conclude whether the pistol is there or not, period!

  • Comment number 8.

    Right now in Zimbabwe there is a much bigger search of even bigger sentimental value to African liberation heros. Bodies of hundreds of peoples massacred by the racist Rhodesians have been discovered in a mine shaft. By yesterday, 17 March, searchers have discovered remains of 605 people. They expect the number to reach 1 000 because there are five more mine shafts in the area. Some of the bodies found hand wires round their necks meaning that some of these people died of strangulation. I am surprised that this event was not deemed newsworthy by Western media outlets. Anywhere else, discovery of remains of 600 people massacred by a racist regime would be newsworthy. Imagine the hype that would have happened if the discovered remains were of Europeans killed by Nazis. Is the silence because some of the victims of this massacre were guerrillas from the hated ZANU PF?

  • Comment number 9.


    Have the tests being concluded yet? we all remember the madness of Gukurahundi

  • Comment number 10.

    I am patting myself on the back -- having completed something more productive than the feuding "neighbours" at Liliesleaf.

    Namely -- listening to the great man himself (Nelson Mandela) speaking his deepest thoughts and vision. Walking in his footsteps is worth far much more than this sensational "hawking" of his missing gun !!!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    Lucky Wal, the bodies were found in Mashonaland central, in Mt darwin. as far as I know, the Gukurahundi occurred in Matebeleland.

  • Comment number 12.

    @DougR - One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. To view Mandela as simply as you have is quite short-sighted - you would do well to remember that without him, the revolution would have been one filled with significantly more bloodshed. You just have to look at the state of South Africa following the debacle around the recent Mandela health scare to know that he is seen more as the saviour of a nation than a slaughterer of "innocent women and children" as you put it - and that by all races in South Africa.

  • Comment number 13.

    "The dangerous liberties are the liberties that the people tear out for themselves, not the ones they are given." A. de Lamartine

  • Comment number 14.

    Anyone remember the Park Station, Johannesburg bomb that exploded in a crowded area of the station and the mayhem it caused, not to mention the dead and injured, and the young woman who was scarred for life, when half of her face was blown off? I guess not. I don't see anyone white or black trying to make amends for the tragedies on both sides and feel very strongly that The Rainbow Nation is a misnomer. The Blacks in South Africa will always HATE the whites, and want to be rid of them. The only thing relevant to the Rainbow is the bucket of gold, that everyone is trying to steal for himself/herself!! Does Mr. Mandela truly want the remains of an old gun, or is this just news mongers looking for a story?

  • Comment number 15.

    This has nothing with Mandela,...the story is directed to play around with sentiments. Anyway who talks about a "rainbow nation",...nothing but a contemptible sort of well-being dreamed of by perfidious Christians (keep your children away from them) and ex-slaves trapped in the fantasy world of "English shopkeepers" (Bonaparte)
    It is only empty heads like current centre-stage "world leaders" who can't see the peril of ignorance and arrogance spread by European global expansion and now already feeding an unstoppable planetary vulnerability of humans as a species (out of Africa like it or not), worse life itself as a unique feature of the Earth.
    "The Roman world is falling; yet we hold up our heads instead of bowing them." St. Jerome

  • Comment number 16.

    Kuda Muzira my research into the Rhodesian war shows that Smith's forces had no reason to hide, they did not go about murdering entire population groupings. Look to hero Mugabe, this is more his style, didn't his forces kill and rape Nuns and priests, shoot unarmed innocents (both black and white. Smith may not have been right but he was not callous like Mugabe.



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