Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg dies at 87 after long battle with cancer

Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg dies at 87 after long battle with cancer

Denis Goldberg, an anti-apartheid veteran who served 22 years in prison, has died.

His family and the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust said on Thursday he had died just before midnight on Wednesday.

“His was a life well lived in the struggle for freedom in South Africa. We will miss him,” the notice read.

The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation said Goldberg’s death came after a long battle with cancer, “conducted with customary courage and grace”.

It “feels as if the nation has lost part of its soul”, said the foundation set up in the name of the Anglican archbishop emeritus and his wife, stating Goldberg was “a mensch, a human being of the highest integrity and honour who eschewed personal aggrandisement and consumptiveness”.

Goldberg, twice a widower, had a son and a daughter. He was born to a progressive family in Cape Town in 1933.

He was awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver by the presidency, which commended him for his dedication to working for the betterment of the people of SA throughout his life.

A year ago, he was also honoured with the ANC’s highest award, Isitwalandwe. On acceptance, Goldberg said: “I think it’s a recognition of the role of a whole generation of people who brought us out of the darkness of apartheid.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday the national coronavirus command council observed a moment’s silence “in honour of this special patriot” on learning of his death.

“This is a sad moment for our nation and a moment for all of us to appreciate Denis Goldberg’s brave dedication to our struggle and his lifelong activism in the interest of – and in the physical presence of – poor and vulnerable communities around our country.

“His first experience of prison was alongside his mother who had been detained for four months, but such experiences failed to intimidate him; instead, it fuelled his determination that the liberation movement should use all strategies at its disposal, including armed resistance, to end apartheid.

“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 reassertion of moral centre 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.

“We will hold him in our thoughts and prayers as we say farewell at a time when we are not allowed to gather in numbers to say our goodbyes. May his soul rest in peace.”

In the early 1950s, Goldberg joined the Congress of Democrats and the Communist Party underground.

While a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) studying civil engineering, Goldberg joined the Modern Youth Society in 1953. He continued to be an activist and joined Umkhonto we Sizwe’s (MK) technical office in the early 1960s. He became the weapon maker for Operation Mayibuye, said the presidency.

In 1963, Goldberg was arrested at the Rivonia headquarters of MK. He was sentenced in 1964 at the end of the Rivonia Trial to four terms of life imprisonment. He was the only white member of MK to be arrested and sentenced in the Rivonia Trial.

In 1985, after 22 years of imprisonment, he was set free and reunited with his family in London, where he continued to work for the ANC, said the presidency.

Goldberg was a spokesperson for the ANC and also represented it in the Anti-Apartheid Committee of the UN.

In 1995, after the first democratic election in SA, Goldberg founded the development organisation Community Heart (health education and reconstruction training) to help improve the living standards of black South Africans.

The Tutus, who last year worked with Goldberg on hosting an exhibition on the Second World War, said he was an active member of the Hout Bay community, where he lived, “particularly at the intersection of social development and the arts”.

“We send our deepest condolences to Goldberg’s family, and to the extensive circle of people he loved and who loved him.”

Movie producer Anant Singh also paid tribute to Goldberg, saying: “He was a social campaigner to his last days and his work is perpetuated through the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust. We salute Denis as a true hero of South Africa.”

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