Human rights award for Struggle stalwart


Former president Nelson Mandela used to call him “boy” and he used to call Mr Mandela, “Nel”.

“Mr Mandela was 15 years my senior and so he called me boy. It was a nice irony in South Africa – a black leader calling a white guy ‘boy’, and I loved it,” reminisced ANC stalwart and Rivonia trialist, Denis Goldberg, sharing some fond memories with a small group of friends and fellow comrades at he Rondebosch United Church on Tuesday evening, March 22, where he received, with great humility, the Human Rights Legacy Honour from the ANC Gaby Shapiro branch.

The 82-year-old Struggle icon was honoured for his unwavering, fearless and selfless contributions to the pursuit of freedom for all in South Africa.

The award came a day after South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day to commemorate the tragic Sharpeville and Langa massacres in 1960 and to celebrate South Africa’s constitution which gives equal rights to all.

Mr Goldberg, who lives in Hout Bay, spent 22 years behind bars as a political prisoner, from 1963 to 1985.

Speaking at the ceremony, programme director, Karlind Govender, said Mr Goldberg greatly contributed to the foundation of the new South Africa and “he has moved our world forward, striving for equality and dignity for all and strength in human rights”.

Provincial media liaison officer for the ANC Western Cape, Yonela Diko, thanked Mr Goldberg for his selfless dedication to the Struggle and said he gave his time and life to stand up for the rights and dignity of South Africans.

Mr Goldberg was tried from June 1963 to October 1964 in the Pretoria Supreme Court along with Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and others.

The trial became known as the Rivonia Trial named after the Johannesburg suburb which was the location of the hideout for a militant wing of the African National Congress.

Mr Goldberg and his co-accused faced charges which included sabotage and suppression of communism acts for campaigning to overthrow the government by violent revolution and for assisting an armed invasion of the country by foreign troops.

At the time it was alleged that acts of sabotage were carried out by persons recruited by the accused in their capacity as members of the High Command of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) of which Mr Goldberg was a technical officer .

Mr Goldberg was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Pretoria Prison.

White freedom fighters could not be sentenced to Robben Island and he was separated from his black comrades.

He said he was once asked, in an interview, if he was shocked when he received a life sentence.

“Well it was either life or death and I got life and life is good,” he responded.

As the only white person on trial, he was seen as a traitor and he expected nothing less than the death penalty as the sentence for high treason at the time was the death penalty.

Mr Goldberg’s parents came to South Africa from Britain, he was a first generation South African and grew up in a communist household in Cape Town.

With his parents being political activists, he was made aware of the political situation in the country from an early age.

He later obtained a degree in civil engineering from the University of Cape Town and while incarcerated, completed degrees in public administration, history and geography, and in library science. He was halfway through a law degree when, in 1985, he was released.

Following his release from prison, in he was exiled to London where he joined his family and returned to South Africa in 2002.

After his return he was appointed special advisor to Ronnie Kasrils the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry until 2004. In 2010 he published his autobiography, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa.

“For his selfless contribution to the struggle, he remains the representation of humanity’s highest ideals,” Mr Govender said.