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Denis Goldberg

Denis Goldberg

South African activist
Denis Goldberg
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro South African activist
Is Activist Civil rights advocate
From South Africa
Type Activism
Gender male
Birth 11 April 1933, Cape Town, City of Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Age 87 years
The details


Denis Goldberg (born 11 April 1933) is a South African social campaigner, who was active in the struggle against apartheid and was imprisoned along with other key members of the anti-apartheid movement.


Denis Theodore Goldberg grew up in Cape Town and studied for a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cape Town. As member of the South African Communist Party, an organisation which was suppressed by the apartheid regime which came to power in 1948, he joined other leading white members in forming the Congress of Democrats, of which he became leader. This in turn allied itself with the African National Congress (ANC) and other 'non-racial' congresses in the Congress Alliance. He was detained in 1960 and spent four months in prison without trial.

When the underground armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe was founded in 1961, Goldberg became a technical officer. In 1963 he was arrested at the Rivonia headquarters of their army. He was sentenced in 1964 at the end of the famous Rivonia Trial to four terms of life imprisonment. He was the only white member of Umkhonto we Sizwe to be arrested and sentenced in the Rivonia Trial to life imprisonment.

Goldberg described the issue of being white and involved with the armed struggle as follows: "Being black and involved (in the struggle) meant you had the support of many people and it meant you got to be part of a community. Being white and involved meant being isolated."

He was sent to a white prison in Pretoria. While in prison he took degrees in Public Administration, History and Geography, and in Library Science. He was halfway through a law degree when, in 1985, after 22 years in prison, he was released.

Despite Israel, which enjoyed good relations with the apartheid regime, having interceded on his behalf, he was vehement in his criticism of its treatment of the Palestinians and cooperation with apartheid South Africa. After first visiting his daughter, then living in an Israeli kibbutz, he went into exile in London where he joined his family. In London he resumed his work in the ANC in its London office from 1985 to 1994. He was a spokesperson for the ANC and also represented it at the Anti-Apartheid Committee of the United Nations. A large group of US organisations presented Denis Goldberg with the Albert Luthuli Peace Prize in recognition of his work against apartheid. His exiled family had been active for many years in Woodcraft Folk, a British movement for children and young people committed to fostering equality and cooperation, and he became its president until the position was abolished at his request.

After the first non racial elections in South Africa Goldberg 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. With the support of German friends he established Community H.E.A.R.T. e.V. in Essen in Germany in 1996. He was involved in the early days of Computer Aid International in London, and is now CAI's Patron and Ambassador.

Goldberg returned to South Africa in 2002 and was appointed Special Adviser to Ronnie Kasrils MP, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry until 2004. In 2010 he published his autobiography, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa (STE Publishers, Johannesburg).

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".

Personal life

Goldberg first married Esme Bodenstein, a London-trained physiotherapist who was herself briefly held in solitary confinement in 1963 before going into exile in London with their young children Hilary and David. Only allowed to see Denis twice in twenty years, Esme's house in East Finchley in north London provided a haven for many South African political refugees and a wide variety of other itinerants. When her husband was released she refused to return to South Africa and he remained with her in London until her death of a stroke in 2000. In 2002 Goldberg married Edelgard Nkobi, a German journalist. Just days later his 47-year-old daughter Hilary died suddenly of a blood clot as he was preparing to return to South Africa. Goldberg was again widowed in 2006 when Edelgard died after a long battle with cancer. He lives in Hout Bay, a suburb of Cape Town.

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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