Published On: Thu, Jun 27th, 2019

Denis Goldberg – An African Activist

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Denis Goldberg was born in Cape Town in 1933 where he was raised. Even as a young man he became conscious of the injustices of the oppressive and violent Apartheid regime and after studying his degree in civil engineering, became an executive member of the Congress of Democrats, allied to the ANC (African National Congress). As a member Goldberg participated in various demonstrations and campaigns deemed illegal by the government. During the country’s State of Emergency in 1960, Goldberg was arrested, along with his mother, and detained without trial for four months. Upon his release, he was dismissed from his job due to his political activism and served with a stringent banning order.

Goldberg then Joined the Military Wing of the ANC, called Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) or MK for short, as a technical advisor, along with Nelson Mandela who was appointed 1st Commander in Chief. MK was formed in response to the increased detention and torture of those who opposed Apartheid. Operating from its headquarters in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg, MK reportedly carried out numerous violent acts directed at various military, industrial and civilian sites. The tactics were originally aimed to be merely disruptive acts of sabotage but as the oppression intensified, MK’s methods soon expanded to include guerrilla warfare.

Denis Goldberg – The Rivonia Trial

In 1963 Goldberg, along with Mandela and others of the MK High Command, was arrested and charged with approximately 200 alleged acts of destruction under the Sabotage and Suppression of Communism Act. The Rivonia Trial, which ran from June 1963 to October 1964 in the Pretoria Supreme Court, found all the accused, guilty of the charges and sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment. As the armored trucks transported Mandela, Goldberg and their comrades to the Pretoria Local Prison, Goldberg recalled how the guards taunted them about their impending incarceration and that the only way they would leave the prison would be feet first, carried out in coffins. Fearing reprisals from the tyrannical government, Goldberg’s wife Elsme and their two children exiled to the UK.

Denis Goldberg - An African Activist

During his imprisonment Goldberg, along with the others, became a symbol for the continued struggle, with the ANC maintaining political pressure whilst MK continued their violent campaigns. Goldberg passed the time away by broadening his academic abilities having earned degrees in Public Administration, History, and Geography. In the meantime, the anti-apartheid movement gradually became international with nations petitioning the UN to call for the South African government to release its political prisoners.

Denis Goldberg – Freedom and the Fight to End Apartheid

In 1985, halfway through studying his Law degree, Goldberg was released from prison in a surprising turnaround by the government under the hard-line rule of P.W. Botha. Goldberg joined his family in the UK where he took up the mantle of pressuring the international community to impose and maintain sanctions against the South African government. On 12th October 1987, Goldberg addressed the meeting of the Special Committee against Apartheid in Observance of the Day of Solidarity with South African Prisoners. His speech though seemingly incendiary in parts for refusing to denounce the violent insurrections in his country nevertheless strongly highlighted the necessities of diplomatic action to release political prisoners.

With the appointment of reformist F.W. De Klerk in 1989, and the continued pressure of sanctions more prisoners were freed culminating in the eventual release of Nelson Mandela on Sunday 11th February 1990. Despite De Klerk’s gesture and willingness to negotiate, Goldberg and the ANC continued to address rallies and events demanding sanctions be kept in place until De Klerk kept his promises for reform. Goldberg’s fight soon came to an end as President De Klerk dismantled the failing system of Apartheid and held open elections which saw history being made as Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black State President, was elected.

After the Fight

Goldberg remained in the UK even though his 40-year fight against Apartheid had been won. There was still the long and arduous task of repairing the damage inflicted on his country by the oppressive Apartheid system and so in 1995 he helped establish H.E.A.R.T (Health, Education and Recognition Training). The charity’s purpose was to achieve those goals through the implementation of work and educational programmes aimed at improving the living standards of Black South Africans. He returned to South Africa in 2002 where he was appointed Special Advisor to Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Ronnie Kasrils MP until 2004.

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at

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