One of the last of Mandela’s band of brothers is gone – freedom fighter Denis Goldberg passes away.

By Chris Bishop

One of the last of the band of brothers who stood in the dock with Nelson Mandela, in the shadow of noose, has died aged 87 after a life of trying to help others.

Denis Goldberg was one of the accused in the Rivonia trail where Mandela and his comrades faced charges of sabotage that carried the death penalty. Andrew Mlangeni, who will be 95 in June, is the sole survivor of those accused who were sentenced to life in 1964.

Goldberg trained as an engineer and could have made a comfortable living for himself, but was sickened to his guts by the apartheid regime in South Africa. In the wake of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 he joined the military wing of the African National Congress – Mhkonto Wesizwe where he trained recruits and because he was an engineer everyone assumed he could make bombs.

In the police raid on Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, in Johannesburg, in 1963, detectives caught Goldberg reading a book at the end of a day trying to procure hand grenades for the sabotage campaign. The raid also collared the leading lights of the underground movement: Walter Sisulu; Ahmed Kathrada; Mlangeni and Govan Mbeki. It led to the famous trial in which Mandela and his comrades spent the best part of 27 years on Robben Island.

Goldberg was separated from his comrades, because he was white, and sent to a whites-only prison in Pretoria where he served 20 years in the same cell. The separation from those he had fought the struggle with hurt Goldberg deeply.

In 1984, Goldberg was released from prison and flew to Israel to be reunited with his wife Esme and daughter Hilary. He went to London to work for the ANC in exile.

In his retirement, Goldberg returned to the city of his birth – Cape Town. He built his own home among the fishing cottages of Hout Bay. He was energetic in retirement and spent the remainder of his days working for peace and the betterment of others.

Goldberg spent most of his life working for a political movement. Anyone who knew him will tell you he was his own man. When politics and the ruling party took a dismal turn in South Africa he was never afraid to speak out against the ill-advised actions of many of his former comrades.


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