Denis Theodore Goldberg
Denis Goldberg speaking at the launch of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival, 12 October 2013.
|Born||11 April 1933|
|Alma mater||University of Cape Town|
|Known for||Rivonia Trial|
|Political party||African National Congress|
Denis Goldberg (born 11 April 1933) is a South African social campaigner, who was active in the struggle against apartheid and was imprisoned for 22 years, along with other key members of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. After his release in 1985 he continued to campaign against apartheid from his base in London with his family, until the system was fully disbanded with the 1994 election. He returned to South Africa in 2002.
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Early life
- 1.2 Anti-apartheid activism in South Africa
- 1.3 Arrest and imprisonment
- 1.4 1985–2002: freedom and exile in London
- 1.5 2002: return to South Africa
- 1.6 2015: Denis Goldberg House of Hope
- 2 Awards and recognition
- 3 Works
- 4 Representation in film
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Cited works
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Denis Theodore Goldberg was born on 11 April 1933 in Cape Town, South Africa and grew up in a family that, unlike most white families at that time, welcomed people of all races into their house. His parents, Annie and Sam Goldberg, were both born in London, the children of Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to England in the latter half of the 19th century. Both parents were politically active communists while living in London, and after moving to Cape Town played an active role in the local Woodstock Branch of the South African Communist Party, while Sam ran a series of small businesses.
In March 1950, aged 16, Goldberg began his studies in Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town. In his final year he met Esme Bodenstein, who came from a family active in the Communist Party, and they married in January 1954. Their daughter Hilary was born in 1955 and their son David in 1957.
Anti-apartheid activism in South Africa
Modern Youth Society
Esme was a committee member of the non-racially segregated Modern Youth Society (MYS), through which Denis became friends with Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, who later co-founded SWAPO (South West African People’s Organisation) and became one of the later leaders of an independent Namibia.[a] The MYS aimed to raise awareness and solidarity by various means, including selling the "New Age" newspaper, canvassing door-to-door and holding night classes to educate and politicise working people. The Goldbergs also became involved in the Congress of Democrats. Although these activities were not illegal, the couple and other activists were constantly harassed by the Security Police, who were building up dossiers on those involved.
1955: Congress of the People
In 1953 prominent black academic Z. K. Matthews proposed that a "Congress of the People" be organised to gather and document the wishes of the people. Organising committees were set up across South Africa and Goldberg joined the Cape Town committee. Tasked with organising residents of the desperately poor Loyolo informal settlement in Simonstown, he visited Loyolo every weekend to help the community elect their delegate. After being spotted there by Security Police, he was fired from his job on the South African Railways.
The Western Cape delegates were stopped by the Security Police and held in jail to prevent them attending the Congress of the People in Kliptown, but on 25-26 June 1955, 3,000 delegates gathered there and the Freedom Charter was adopted. This movement led to the formation of the Congress Alliance, bringing together an alliance of four racially-based anti-apartheid political movements: the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of Democrats (COD), the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and Coloured Peoples Congress (CPC), into one large multi-racial movement, sometimes called the Charterists.
1960: first prison experience
In 1957 Goldberg joined the Communist Party (which had been banned in 1950). He was arrested on 30 March 1960 for supporting strikers in the townships in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960. Along with his mother, he spent four months in prison without trial and subsequently lost his job working on the construction of the Athlone Power Station, which added to the burden placed on Esme; faced with similar circumstances, several comrades left the country.
1961–1963: armed resistance
With the government using increasingly violent methods to suppress peaceful protests, Goldberg and others argued for an armed struggle against the police and military. When the underground armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", or MK) was founded as an armed wing of the ANC in December 1961, Goldberg became a technical officer. The aim was to act only against hard targets such as power pylons and avoid any injury or loss of life. Together with Looksmart Ngudle, Goldberg helped organise a training camp at Mamre, outside Cape Town, in December 1962. The camp was later recognised as the first MK training centre inside South Africa; however it had to be abandoned early due to Security Police interest. Goldberg’s involvement in the camp formed part of the charges he later faced at the Rivonia trial.
Following a wave of sabotage attacks, the government passed two pieces of legislation. The 90-Day Detention Law of 1963 allowed the Security Police to detain a person for 90 days without charging them or allowing access to a lawyer and the Sabotage Act of 1962 shifted the onus of proof, requiring the accused to prove their innocence. MK decided that Goldberg needed to leave the country to be trained elsewhere for a while, but he first had to travel to Johannesburg to obtain clearance from the MK High Command. 
In Johannesburg Goldberg helped in the radio broadcast of a speech on the June 26 Freedom Day by Walter Sisulu, out on bail at the time, to show people that the ANC was still active despite the repression. Lionel Gay, a lecturer in physics at Witwatersrand University, built the radio transmitter.
Arrest and imprisonment
July 1963: arrest at Liliesleaf
On 11 July 1963 the security police raided Liliesleaf farmhouse in Rivonia in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, at a meeting planned to be the last held there, after the house having been used as secret meeting-place for nearly two years. Goldberg was arrested at the farm along with several others, including Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Rusty Bernstein.
Goldberg was subjected to a series of often aggressive interrogations, sometimes threatened with hanging and at other times offered inducements to turn state witness. He was told about the death of his friend, Looksmart Ngudle, in prison. Esme had also been arrested and was held under the 90-day Detention Law for 38 days, during which she was treated harshly and subjected to threats to have her children removed from her. On 8 October 1963, after the 90-day detention period had expired, Goldberg and the others were charged with offences under the Sabotage Act. (Nelson Mandela was in prison at the time of the raid, but documents found at Liliesleaf enabled the State to add him as a co-accused.) The subsequent trial became known as the Rivonia Trial.
1963–1964: the Rivonia Trial
The day after being charged, Goldberg and his co-accused met with their lawyers - Bram Fischer, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos - who told them that their situation was dire and that death by hanging was the likely outcome. Goldberg, in an effort to protect Mandela and the other leaders, offered to take responsibility by saying that he had exceeded his instructions in regard to weapons manufacture, arguing that the evidence against him was the most difficult to refute given that the plans had clearly been written by him. This offer was dismissed by the others. An escape plan was discussed, and Goldberg insisted that Esme and the children go into exile, for fear of repercussions should he be successful. Esme and the children left for Britain in December 1963, but Goldberg was unable to escape.
After two of the accused had escaped, the verdict was delivered on 12 June 1964: Bernstein was acquitted and (Bob Hepple) was discharged; the rest were all found guilty. The judge declined to impose the death sentence; instead eight of those convicted were sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment each. At 31 years old, Goldberg was the youngest of those sentenced and the only white man. His mother, who was in the court for sentencing, did not hear the judge, and shouted “Denis, what is it? What did the judge say?", to which Goldberg responded: “Life, and life is wonderful”.
June 1964: Pretoria Central Prison
Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Central Prison, while the others were sent to Robben Island. Like the others, he did not appeal his sentence. He was mostly alone in his cell for 16 to 18 hours a day. The prisoners were forbidden to talk amongst themselves and the harsh conditions often led to illness and psychological stress.
After four years, Esme was allowed to visit for the first time, but restricted to five half-hour visits; after another four years she was again allowed to visit, but after that never again, with no explanation given. After eight years, his children were allowed to visit and allowed physical contact with him until they reached the age of 16; apart from this, no physical contact was allowed during visits.
Only one 500-word letter was permitted every six months but even these were often arbitrarily censored and cut. On his release, Goldberg was given a pack of letters sent by Esme that had been withheld; at the time he had been told they had never arrived. While he was in prison and subsequently, Esme's house in East Finchley in north London provided a haven for many South African political refugees and various other itinerants.
Both of Goldberg’s parents died whilst he was in prison. They had separated and his mother Annie had gone to live with Esme and the children in the UK. On the day before he was released, Goldberg was allowed under guard to visit his father’s grave.
Bram Fischer had led the legal team at the Rivonia Trial. In 1966 he joined Goldberg in prison after being given a life sentence for furthering the aims of communism and conspiracy to overthrow the government. When Fischer became very ill in 1974, Goldberg kept a detailed diary of his medical care. The diary was subsequently smuggled out of prison. After a fall, Fischer was belatedly diagnosed with terminal cancer. Goldberg helped care for him and managed to persuade the prison guards to let him stay with Fischer in his cell overnight. Non-political prisoners rarely served their full term, whereas political prisoners were required to serve every day of their sentence. Only shortly before his death was Fischer allowed to leave the prison, to be put under house arrest at his brother's house in Bloemfontein. A birthday telegram arranged by Goldberg on behalf of the prisoners was not only intercepted, but a prison officer told Goldberg that he would charge him for communicating with a prisoner without permission.
The political prisoners were cut off from all news of the outside world, to the extent that an article about the United States Bicentennial was cut from the Reader’s Digest before the magazine was given to the prisoners. In 1977 Goldberg, who was studying law, along with eight fellow-prisoners, brought a case against the Minister of Prisons and Commissioner of Prisons, asking to be entitled to receive newspapers, arguing that they were treated more harshly than other prisoners and the deprivation of news of any kind was an additional punishment to loss of liberty. The case was first heard in the Supreme Court of the Transvaal, with the judgement finding in favour of the State. The case was taken on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal, where it was found that while the commissioner did have sole discretion to determine how prisoners may be treated, the court may "entertain grave doubts as to the wisdom or reasonableness of the determination". Following the judgement Justice John Wessels, accompanied by General Jan Roux, first deputy commissioner, visited the prison. In the presence of Goldberg, Wessels said he was sure that Roux would see to it that they got the newspapers and magazines of their choice. In September 1980, Goldberg was told he could order newspapers - 16 years after being sentenced, he and his fellow prisoners were able to have access to news.
1979: escape for some
In June 1978 Tim Jenkin and Stephen Lee, who had been sentenced to 12 years for illegal political activities, arrived at the prison. Shortly after arrival, Jenkin told Goldberg that he planned to escape, and asked for his help in hiding money that he had smuggled in. Various versions of the escape plan evolved over time, with the size of the escape group growing to a maximum of eight, including Goldberg, at one point.
Goldberg realised that an escape would come with a cost to the movement as it would provoke a severe clampdown by the authorities; for this reason, and to secure help with the logistics of the escape, he had to communicate with his comrades in the ANC. He was able to do this through coded letters sent to Baruch Hirson in London, with whom he had served a nine-year sentence, as between them they had created a code by which to communicate. Hirson then communicated with Joe Slovo in Mozambique, arranging an escape vehicle and other details.
As the plan evolved it became clear that for the escape to be successful it would have to be restricted to three people, owing to the final plan being dependent upon hiding for a while in a tiny closet in which only three slim people could fit. The escape preparations brought some differences of opinion amongst the political prisoners, who included David Rabkin, Jeremy Cronin and Raymond Suttner, but they remained comrades and all contributed in some way to the escape effort. Goldberg withdrew from the actual escape, leaving the three who had done most of the planning and had been the main drivers of the idea from the start: Jenkin, Lee and Alex Moumbaris. Goldberg helped to distract the warden while the three escapees made their way out; all three managed to escape to neighbouring countries and freedom.
1985: a negotiated release
Goldberg's daughter Hilary was living on a kibbutz in Israel, which had set up a committee to try and obtain her father’s release from prison. Herat Lapid, who campaigned for the release of Jewish prisoners worldwide, became involved and started lobbying political contacts in Britain. It was a difficult time for Goldberg as he did not know the stance of the ANC and his comrades imprisoned on Robben Island towards his possible release. Isolated as he was from both them and those at liberty there was little opportunity for consultation; however, a message was conveyed to him that the ANC, including those on Robben Island, approved of the initiatives of his daughter and Herat Lapid.
In 1985 these ongoing initiatives were complemented by political developments. Under pressure from the United States, the government offered to release political prisoners if they renounced violence. Goldberg asked to see Mandela and his other comrades in Cape Town, but this was refused. The main condition put to Goldberg was that he would not take part in violence for political ends. Goldberg agreed not to be a soldier anymore, but he did not repudiate his earlier involvement or the need for an armed struggle. In a letter to President P. W. Botha he detailed his position and agreed to an "undertaking to participate in normal peaceful politics which can be freely and meaningfully practised".
On 28 February 1985, after 22 years in prison, he was released.
While in prison, Goldberg had attained degrees in Public Administration, History and Geography, and in Library Science through the University of South Africa and had undertaken part of a law degree.
1985–2002: freedom and exile in London
Goldberg was taken straight from prison to the airport to fly to Israel, where he was reunited with his wife and children. Despite Israel having interceded on his behalf, he was vehement in his criticism of its treatment of the Palestinians and cooperation with South Africa.
He went into exile in London with his family and resumed his work in the ANC in its London office. On 26 June 1985, on the 30th anniversary of the Congress of the People (aka Freedom Day), as spokesperson for the ANC, he gave a speech at Trafalgar Square at an Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) rally, also attended by leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, and in December of the same year went on a six-week speaking tour in Scandinavia.He represented the movement at the Anti-Apartheid Committee of the United Nations and also became involved in Woodcraft Folk, a British civic movement for young people in which his family had been active for many years. His main role through the years until 1994 was to build support for the AAM, and to this end he travelled extensively across Europe and North America, doing speaking engagements and media interviews. He also established strong relationships with trade unions and long-standing relationships with people who continued to support South Africa after democracy was established.
1994: apartheid ends
After the first non-racial elections in South Africa and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994, Goldberg decided not to return to South Africa, primarily so he could remain with Esme, his children and grandchildren, who wanted to stay in the UK.
He was involved in the early days of Computer Aid International (founded in 1996), and became their Honorary Patron. He founded the development organisation Community H.E.A.R.T. in London in 1995, to help to improve the living standards of black South Africans. Community H.E.A.R.T. raised funds for organisations such as Rape Crisis Cape Town as well as for initiatives to provide books and computers to schools. With the support of German friends he established Community H.E.A.R.T. e.V. in Essen in Germany in 1996, where he met Edelgard Nkobi. He subsequently visited Germany many times, learning to speak German and establishing a wide network of friends.
In 2000 Esme died after emergency surgery to treat a gangrenous bowel. In 2002 Denis and Edelgard married in London; just days later, his daughter Hilary died suddenly, as Goldberg and Edelgard were preparing to return to South Africa.
2002: return to South Africa
Goldberg returned to South Africa in 2002 and was appointed Special Adviser to Ronnie Kasrils MP, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry until 2004. He subsequently served as special advisor to Buyelwa Sonjica, successor to Kasrils. Edelgard and Denis lived initially in Pretoria then in Cape Town. Edelgard died in 2006 after a long battle with cancer.
Goldberg continued to travel to Germany and other countries to speak about South Africa and the work needed to transform it; in June 2009 he presented a paper “South Africa, the Transition to Democracy and the Banning of Torture” at a seminar at the University of Düsseldorf.
In 2010 he published his autobiography, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa (new edition published in 2016).
He became involved in a project to teach high school students about the history of the liberation struggle and also lent support to several projects in Hout Bay, the Cape Town suburb where he lived. This included support to the Kronendal Music Academy (founded 2007) which aims to bring together young people from different communities through playing music. He used his German contacts to help arrange for a jazz band composed of Kronendal students to tour Germany in 2012.
2015: Denis Goldberg House of Hope
In 2015, Goldberg and four others established the non-profit Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust. The primary focus of the Trust is the establishment of an arts, cultural and educational centre, to be known as the Denis Goldberg House of Hope.. In 2018, aged 85 and fighting lung cancer he was still working on the House of Hope project.
Like many struggle veterans, Goldberg has criticised corruption in the ANC. Appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live in January 2016 he said "the members of the ANC need to renew the leadership from top to bottom".
In 2017 Goldberg appeared with Andrew Mlangeni - the two remaining survivors of the Rivonia trial – in a documentary titled “Life is Wonderful”, which tells the story of the trial. (The title reflects Goldberg's words to his mother at the end of the trial on hearing that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence).
Awards and recognition
- 1988 Albert J Luthuli African Peace Award by a group of 12 US organisations: American Friends Service Committee, American Red Cross and others
- 2000 Honorary doctorate from the Medical University of South Africa (now Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University)
- 2009 Order of Luthuli (Silver) by president of South Africa
- 2010 Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstkreuz am Bande)[b]
- 2012 Military Veterans Medal (Platinum Class II) Mahatma Gandhi Satyagraha Peace Award by Gandhi Development Trust, Durban
- 2012 Randburg Ward 102 branch of the ANC named Denis Goldberg Branch
- 2012 World Scholar award from City of Glasgow College
- 2018 Honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University, Scotland
- 2019 Isitwalandwe Medal
- Goldberg, Denis (2010). The Mission : A Life for Freedom in South Africa. Johannesburg: STE.
- Goldberg, Denis (2012). Mandela-Tambo : friends, comrades, leaders, legacy. Mandela-Tambo lecture series, 4. ISBN 9780955653834. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
This paper was delivered as the Fourth lecture of the Mandela-Tambo lecture series, 13 September 2012. The lecture was organised by the City of Glasgow College and ACTSA Scotland in association with the SA High Commission. The Glasgow Mandela-Tambo lecture 2011.
- Goldberg, Denis (2016). A Life for Freedom: The Mission to End Racial Injustice in South Africa. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813166858. (First 7 chapters available online)
Representation in film
In May 2017, it was announced that production would start in 2018 on a film of Tim Jenkin's book about his escape from Pretoria Central Prison, produced by David Barron and starring Daniel Radcliffe as Jenkin and Sam Neill as Goldberg. Filming of Escape from Pretoria began in Adelaide, South Australia, in March 2019.
- Later, in 1957 Chief Hosea Kutako, leader of the Herero people in the then South West Africa (now Namibia), was refused permission by the South African authorities to represent his people at the United Nations. In response Goldberg assisted Ya Toivo to make a tape-recorded message and post it to New York, where Mburumba Kerina brought it the attention of the U.N. The South African authorities then declared Ya Toivo an illegal immigrant and expelled him to the northern part of the country.
- Not on the list shown here for 2010 though.
- "Denis Theodore Goldberg". South African History Online. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
- Goldberg 2016, p. 18
- Goldberg 2016, p. 12
- Goldberg 2016, p. 21
- Goldberg 2016, p. 26
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 30-32
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 35-36
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 39-42
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 43-44
- "History timeline:History of South Africa and significant dates in Denis Goldberg's life". Denis Goldberg Foundation. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 52-55
- "uMkhonto weSizwe (MK)". South African History Online. 20 March 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
- Goldberg 2016, p. 66
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 71-26
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 75-76
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 79-80
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 86-89
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 91-96
- Goldberg 2016, p. 119
- Goldberg 2016, p. 99
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 104-05
- Goldberg 2016, p. 111
- Goldberg 2016, p. 114
- Goldberg 2016, p. 119
- Goldberg 2016, p. 120
- Peel, John (3 October 2014). "Esme's House". BBC - Radio 4 - Home Truths. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- Goldberg 2016, p. 134
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 147-157
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 170-88
- Jenkin, Tim (1987). Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison. Worldcat (New ed.). Johannesburg: Jacana. ISBN 9781919931500. OCLC 653065100.
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 200-217
- Dick, Archie (2004). "Denis Goldberg on librarianship and history: extracts from an interview (abstract)". Innovation (28): 17-21. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
- Gray, Madi (14 November 2005). "Denis Goldberg". The Nordic Africa Institute. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- Gray, Madi. "Chapter 9: To build solidarity - that was my task". South African History Online. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
In Denis Goldberg : freedom fighter and humanist, edited by David Kenvyn (2014)
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 228-323
- Goldberg, Denis. "Chapter 15 The World is my Oyster Life Number 7 1985-1994 by Denis Goldberg". South African History Online. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
- Goldberg 2016, pp. 324-342
- "Helping to rebuild South Africa: About". Community HEART UK. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
- Schneider, Igna (3 May 2002). "Goldberg comes home". News24. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- "Aug 17, 2007, Denis Goldberg wrote:", Zenzo: Photo Works, 2007-08-17, retrieved 2018-01-03
- Goldberg, Denis (2010). The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa. STE Publishers. ISBN 978-1-920222-43-7.
- "Kronendal Music Academy Facebook page". Retrieved 19 March 2019.
- "House of Hope". Denis Goldberg Foundation. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
- Graham-Harrison, Emma (12 November 2017). "Denis Goldberg, hero of anti-apartheid struggle, tells of his last battle – for art". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- "HOUSE OF HOPE, Building the Future of the Houtbay Youth". Denis Goldberg Foundation. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- "South Africa: Denis Goldberg says ANC leaders must be replaced". Afrika-News.com. 24 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
- "Rivonia treason trialist calls for ANC brass to be ejected 'top to bottom'". Times LIVE. Johannesburg. 26 January 2016. Retrieved 2016-01-26.
- "Struggle hero Denis Goldberg honoured by his award from the ANC". IOL (Cape Argus). 23 January 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- Mitchell, Robert (18 May 2007). "Daniel Radcliffe to Star in Prison-Break Drama 'Escape From Pretoria'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
- Grater, Tom. "Sam Neill joins Daniel Radcliffe in 'Escape From Pretoria'". Screen Daily. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
- Sutton, Malcolm (13 March 2019). "Adelaide transformed into apartheid-era Cape Town for Escape From Pretoria filming". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
- Goldberg, Denis (2016). A Life for Freedom: The Mission to End Racial Injustice in South Africa. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813166858.
- Kenvyn, David (2014). Denis Goldberg : freedom fighter and humanist. Johannesburg: Liliesleaf, in association with Community H.E.A.R.T.
These essays are presented to honour Denis Goldberg by South African, British, German, Dutch and Swedish friends and comrades who have known him during his remarkable life. (Back cover)Full text available online on South African History Online.