Denis Theodore Goldberg (11 April 1933 – 29 April 2020) was a South African social campaigner, who was active in the struggle against apartheid. He was accused No. 3 in the Rivonia Trial, alongside the better-known Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, where he was also the youngest of the defendants. He 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 apartheid system was fully abolished with the 1994 election. He returned to South Africa in 2002 and founded the non-profit Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust in 2015. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2019, and died in Cape Town on 29 April 2020.
Denis Theodore Goldberg
11 April 1933
Cape Town, Cape Province, Union of South Africa
29 April 2020 (aged 87)
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Denis Theodore Goldberg was born on 11 April 1933 in Cape Town, South Africa and grew up in a family that welcomed people of all races into their house.He was the son of Annie (Fineberg), a seamstress, and Sam Goldberg, a truck driver. His parents were 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
Bodenstein was a committee member of the non-racially segregated Modern Youth Society (MYS), through which Goldberg 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.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.
Later life, death and legacy
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 titled “South Africa, the Transition to Democracy and the Banning of Torture” at a seminar at the University of Düsseldorf.
In 2009 received the Order of Luthuli for his contribution to the liberation struggle and his service to the South African people.
In 2010 he published his autobiography, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa (a new edition was published in 2016).
Goldberg 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.
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".
On 23 January 2019, Deputy ANC President David Mabuza awarded Goldberg the party's highest honour, Isitwalandwe.
In July 2017, Goldberg was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer after collapsing during a speaking tour in Germany. After extensive chemotherapy his tumour shrank; however, his cancer returned in March.
Goldberg died at his home in Hout Bay just before midnight on 29 April 2020.
President Cyril Ramaphosa paid his respects, and stated that: "His commitment to ethical leadership was unflinching and even during his advanced age, he formed part of the movement of veterans of the struggle calling for the reassertion of the moral center of society. He dedicated his life to achieving the better life we enjoy today and his revolutionary contribution reinforced the non-racial character of our struggle and of our democratic dispensation". The National Coronavirus Command Council observed a moment’s silence in his honour.
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.Despite suffering from lung cancer, at the age of 85 he continued to work on the project.In an interview in the 2018 UCT Alumni Magazine, Goldberg spoke of his passion for the project and belief in the role of art and culture to promote change, saying that South Africa was still a very divided society and that young people needed "to sing together, dance together, make poetry together".
The Denis Goldberg House of Hope Arts and Culture Centre (or Denis Goldberg House of Hope Arts, Culture and Education Centre) will be situated at the Hout Bay Museum, and will house the Goldberg art collection, titled “Life is Wonderful”, and other memorabilia.
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