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Denis Goldberg As Reflected On By Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

The Ahmed Kathrada foundation share fond tales from Ahmed Kathrada's memoirs into the life & times of anti-apartheid stalwart Denis Goldberg.

SOUTH AFRICA NEWS: South Africans mourn the loss of veteran stalwart Denis Goldberg who passed on in Cape Town last night. Denis Goldberg was among the youngest of the Umkhonto we Sizwe who was forced to serve 22 years in the all-white section of Pretoria Central Prison. 

For his lifelong contribution to the liberation struggle and service to the people of South Africa, the former ‘Rivonia Trialist’ was in 2009 awarded the Order of Luthuli (Silver) from the the South African Presidency. A decade later he was bestowed the highest honour by the African National Congress, the honour of Isithwalandwe at the ruling party’s annual January 9th celebrations in 2019. He also received the 1988 Albert J Luthuli African Peace Award by a group of 12 US organisations. 

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in a statement issued today was deeply saddened by the passing on of the celebrated ANC veteran, Denis Theodore Goldberg (87). In his memoirs the late Ahmed Kathrada recalls the fateful day of 11 July 1963 that led to the story of the Rivonia Trialists. He wrote 

We have moved from Rivonia. Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Wilton Mkwayi are staying at Travallyn, the newly rented MK farm near Krugersdorp. Denis Goldberg is with them, posing as Charles Barnard. He has taken a lease on the farm and bought a couple of vehicles for MK. Denis has been tasked by the High Command to perform these tasks before going into exile and continuing to work from outside the country. History has recorded that Denis Goldberg never made it into exile. The leaders of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, were arrested at the Liliesleaf farmhouse in Rivonia and sentenced to life imprisonment. Denis Goldberg, aged 31 at the time, was among the youngest of them and forced to serve 22 years in the all-white section of Pretoria Central Prison. 

In 1966, he was joined in prison by Bram Fischer, who had been given a life sentence for furthering the aims of communism and conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government.

Goldberg was an outstanding African revolutionary. He started his political activism as a youth in the Modern Youth Society in Cape Town, selling the New Age newspaper and educating workers at night classes in the city. He was active in the South African Congress of Democrats, an ally of the ANC in the Congress Alliance. He joined the underground South African Communist Party in 1957 and was arrested in March 1960 for supporting a workers’ strike in the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. Being a civil engineer by profession, he was recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe for his technical skills. He helped establish MK’s first training camp inside the country in Mamre. He was instrumental in assisting Walter Sisulu broadcast on 26 June 1963 a Freedom Day speech over an underground radio station in Johannesburg.      

Both his parents, who were active in the Communist Party in London and Cape Town, died while he was in prison. His release from prison on 28 February 1985 was negotiated with the apartheid government with the consent of the ANC-in-exile. In London, he was active in the ANC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. In June 1985, he had the singular honour of speaking at a rally at Trafalgar Square to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People. Goldberg returned to South Africa in 2002 and was appointed as a special advisor to Ministers Ronnie Kasrils and Buyelwa Sonjica in the Ministry of Water Affairs and Forestry. 

In 2010, he published his autobiography entitled, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa. Goldberg had a zest for life. He spoke about the struggle for liberation with gusto and passion. His memory was excellent until the end and he would relive episodes about the freedom struggle and the Rivonia Trial with clarity and as if it was happening now.  His primary aim in his later years was to educate young people about liberation history, music and culture. His humble house in Cape Town resembled a living art museum. To this end he supported the Kronendal Music Academy and established the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust. Denis Goldberg remained an ANC member until the end. His political consciousness was never blunted by the personal accolades offered to him and he never hesitated to criticise his organisation, or its leaders, when things went wrong. He was outspoken and vociferous in his criticism over corruption in government and state capture. This he did on numerous occasions publicly. 

The Kathrada Foundation is deeply honoured by its historical association with the late Denis Goldberg. He will be remembered not as a white man living and enjoying enormous socio-economic and political benefits under the system of apartheid, but as a truly African revolutionary who was prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for the liberation of the black majority in South Africa.

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