The Role of Norway in the Liberation Struggle

19 April 2018

Ambassador Trine Skymoen from Norway opened a permanent exhibition entitled: The Role of Norway in the Liberation Struggle on 12 April 2018 at Liliesleaf.

Photo: (l-r) Kgalema Mothlanthe, Nicholas Wolpe, Ambassador Trine Skymoen and Dr Gunnar Stålsett

Located in the suburb of Rivonia, a neighbourhood in northern Johannesburg, Liliesleaf is a heritage site which played a vital role in the struggle against apartheid. It became the hub for liberation activities and meetings and served as a safehouse for many anti-apatheid activists until it was raided by security police in 1963.

Implicated by documents found at the farm which showed their plans for an armed struggle, Mandela and his comrades were charged with sabotage and faced the death sentence. The subsequent trial in 1964 of those caught at Liliesleaf came to be known as the Rivonia Trial.

At a reunion held at Liliesleaf for those who stood in the Rivonia Trial, it was agreed that the house should be returned to its original state and be kept as a museum and in 2008 it was opened up as a museum to the public and is regarded as an important South African heritage site. It now serves to honour the journey to democracy in South Africa, and paves the way for learning about the history of the nation.

Liliesleaf CEO Nicholas Wolpe said that the purpose of the Norway exhibition was to highlight the role of international solidarity in the fight for human rights in South Africa. He said that the government of Norway and its people played a pivotal role in the fight against apartheid and this exhibition recaptures their memories and testimonies.
Norwegian Ambassador to South Africa Trine Skymoen in her remarks said that it is important to remember and educate on how international solidarity work can contribute to the liberation of the oppressed. She said that she hopes that seeing how many Norwegians became deeply involved in assisting South Africans in their struggle for freedom and equality will inspire South Africans to get engaged, not only for themselves but for others who are still struggling for democracy and human rights in Africa and the world.
In his address Dr Gunnar Stålsett, a Norwegian theologican and politician, remembered his role in the anti-apartheid struggle in church and society, in Oslo and Geneva, both as a politician and later as a servant of the church. He said that he was honoured to have met a few anti-apartheid struggle stalwarts and as Vice Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee at the time was present when bishop Desmond Tutu, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.  

Speaking about the Centre Stålsett said, "The Liliesleaf Liberation Center is built in memory of the links between the peoples of South Africa and other nations in the struggle that dismantled apartheid. This great centre which vibrates resistance history is dedicated to liberation.

"Liberation is an ever-ongoing process. Therefore, this centre is not primarily a museum, nor an archive, not merely a collection of data, significant as such functions are. No, this centre is a beacon of freedom and a source of energy in the continued process of implementing the promises of victory.  To every new generation, it will be a place of learning in the art of reconciliation, and a workshop for the skills of democracy – a real laboratory of all that matters for peace.

"May people listen when it, audaciously and responsibly, speaks truth to power -without ever becoming an instrument of propaganda.  Indeed, the name that has been chosen for this unique centre, and the spirit that defines it, signals that this is a site of conscience in the land and a bond of brotherhood among nations.

"Friends, we have been invited here tonight to celebrate Norway’s contribution. This word, contribution, sets things right; the struggle was fought and won by you, South Africans, won by yourselves. Yes, we, your friends around the world, marched, protested, boycotted and condemned the racist regime. We contributed, but we did not sacrifice. 

"Therefore, this is a day to remember that the real sacrifice was paid by the millions whose rights as citizens were denied because of the colour of their skin. Those in the townships, those driven into the Bantustans, those huddling in the barracks of coal mines far from their loved ones. The pain was theirs. They paid the price.

"The end of apartheid is duly celebrated as a victory over institutional racism and structural oppression - but a shared quality of life, and the equality of all citizens, which was at the heart of the struggle, is still contested."

The exhibition is interactive and focusses on different aspects of activism that took place in Norway as a part of South Africa's history.