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Obituary: Anti-apartheid campaigner and supporter of the Palestinian cause dies

22nd May 2020
Obituary: Anti-apartheid campaigner and supporter of the Palestinian cause dies

(Photo credit: Ric Lander/WikiCommons)

Denis Theodore Goldberg April 11, 1933 – April 29, 2020

Renowned veteran South African anti-apartheid campaigner Denis Goldberg has died aged 87.

Goldberg was a close ally of the late Nelson Mandela and was one of Mandela’s two surviving co-defendants from the (1963-64) Rivonia Trial, at which 10 men were on trial for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid regime.

The Capetonian spent 22 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the country’s brutal racist state. In the process, the man of Lithuanian Jewish descent became a vocal critic of Israel.

Paying tribute to Goldberg, Mandela’s grandson, Chief Zwelivelile Mandela, wrote, ‘We salute a great man and a leader of our struggle…he belonged to a special generation of people who chose a life of struggle over one of the conveniences, unafraid of the brutality of the apartheid state.’

He studied civil engineering before joining the banned Communist party in 1957 and taking part in a campaign of non-violent resistance to the apartheid regime.

His first run-in with the law came in 1960, during protests following the Sharpeville massacre when 69 unarmed protestors were shot dead by South African police.

Following his release from custody, he was spurred on by the brutality of the white South African police force to join the military wing of the African National Congress, Mkhonto we Sizwe, co-founded by Mandela after Sharpeville.

In 1963 Goldberg was again arrested following a raid on his group’s hideout and charged with planning a “violent revolution” against the Government.

He alongside Mandela and other defendants, including the late Ahmed Kathrada, were given a life sentence at the infamous Rivonia Triat. He was jailed in Pretoria Central Prison, separated from his non-white comrades who were sent to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.

Following his release in 1985, Goldberg moved to London where he raised support for the struggle against white domination, returning to South Africa in 2002 after the fall of the apartheid regime. He became a powerful voice against racism and often shared his experience with journalists and activists alike.

Like so many of his colleagues in the anti-apartheid movement, Goldberg became a vocal critic of Israel and a stalwart supporter of the Palestinian cause.

He told historian Tom Segev that Israel was the Middle East’s South Africa and that the solution in both places should be identical: one state with equal rights for all.

His vision was realized in his own country and Goldberg returned there, crowned in glory.Goldberg described the “enormous” lies propagated to defend Israel. “I’ve lived through South African apartheid, and I saw it there as well.”

Goldberg is survived by his brother, son and three grandchildren.

Nadine Osman

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