Denis Goldberg, tried alongside Mandela and imprisoned for 22 years, died at 87


South African anti-apartheid activist Denis Goldberg, who was tried alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia trial of 1963-64 and imprisoned for 22 years by the regime, died at the age of 87 at his home in Cape Town.

President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed sincere condolences at the death of Goldberg, one of the most prominent white activists in South Africa’s long struggle against racial repression.

“This is … a time for all of us to appreciate the courageous dedication of Denis Goldberg to our struggle and his ongoing activism in the interest – and in the physical presence – of the poor and vulnerable communities of our country,” said Ramaphosa in a press release on Thursday.

“His revolutionary contribution has reinforced the non-racial nature of our struggle and our democratic dispensation,” said the president in a series of subsequent tweets.

Goldberg died Wednesday after suffering from lung cancer for years, said a family member.

A copy of a combined photo showing those who have been tried is shown. Left to right at the top are Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Gowan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba. From left to right in the bottom row are Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg. (Radu Sigheti / Reuters)

Goldberg, whose family was of Lithuanian Jewish origin, was born in Cape Town in 1933.

A communist, he joined the military branch of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1961 to oppose the apartheid regime. He was arrested in 1963 at a clandestine meeting in a suburb of Johannesburg and was tried with several others, including Mandela and Walter Sisulu, in what has become known as the Rivonia trial.

He was found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment after the judge refused to impose the death penalty.

Being white, Goldberg was not sent to the famous Robben Island prison with black political prisoners like Mandela, in accordance with the apartheid regime’s philosophy that the different races of the country should not mix.

Instead, he was imprisoned in the capital Pretoria, where he spent most of the time in solitary confinement.

He was released in 1985 after 22 years in prison after agreeing with the government not to participate in political violence. He continued his role in the anti-apartheid struggle of exile in London.

Apartheid ended with Mandela’s victory in the country’s first free elections in 1994, but Goldberg did not return to live there until 2002 for family reasons.

In recent years, Goldberg has criticized the failings of the ruling ANC to lift enough South Africans out of poverty. He was particularly critical of former President Jacob Zuma, who faces several investigations into allegations of corruption during and before his tenure.

Mmusi Maimane, former South African opposition leader and former British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn were among those who also paid tribute to Golberg on social media.


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