Posted on 06/05/2020
Tribute to Denis Goldberg (11 April 1933 – 29 April 2020)
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Denis Theodore Goldberg was born on 11 April 1933 in Cape Town, South Africa and grew up in a family that welcomed people of all races into their house. His parents, Annie and Sam Goldberg, were both born in London, the children of Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to England in the latter half of the 19th century. Both parents were politically active communists while living in London, and after moving to Cape Town played an active role in the local Woodstock Branch of the South African Communist Party, while Sam (his father) ran a series of small businesses.
In March 1950, aged 16, Goldberg began his studies in civil engineering at the University of Cape Town. In his final year he met Esme Bodenstein, who came from a family active in the Communist Party, and they married in January 1954. Their daughter Hilary was born in 1955 and their son David in 1957.
With the government using increasingly violent methods to suppress peaceful protests, Goldberg and others argued for an armed struggle against the police and military. When the underground armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", or MK) was founded as an armed wing of the ANC in December 1961, Goldberg became a technical officer. The aim was to act only against hard targets such as power pylons and avoid any injury or loss of life. Together with Looksmart Ngudle, Goldberg helped organise a training camp at Mamre, outside Cape Town, in December 1962. The camp was later recognised as the first MK training centre inside South Africa; however it had to be abandoned early due to Security Police interest. Goldberg’s involvement in the camp formed part of the charges he later faced at the Rivonia trial.
The day after being charged, Goldberg and his co-accused met with their lawyers - Bram Fischer, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos - who told them that their situation was dire and that death by hanging was the likely outcome. Goldberg, in an effort to protect Mandela and the other leaders, offered to take responsibility by saying that he had exceeded his instructions in regard to weapons manufacture, arguing that the evidence against him was the most difficult to refute given that the plans had clearly been written by him. This offer was dismissed by the others. An escape plan was discussed, and Goldberg insisted that Esme and the children go into exile, for fear of repercussions should he be successful. Esme and the children left for Britain in December 1963, but Goldberg was unable to escape.
Goldberg died at his home in Hout Bay just before midnight on 29 April 2020.
President Cyril Ramaphosa paid his respects, and stated that: "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 the reassertion of the moral center 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"
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