As the only White amongst those convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial, Denis Goldberg will always have a unique place in that story. These memoirs offer the reader an insight into an important chapter in the history of our struggle from a different viewpoint because the racist dogmas of apartheid dictated that he would be incarcerated apart from his Black comrades and colleagues. That segregation denied him both the companionship and the counsel of his fellow accused. His was consequently an exceedingly lonely sojourn. But, true to himself and the cause he had espoused from his youth, he bore it with courage and an immense dignity.
In 2009 the President of South Africa awarded him the National Order of Luthuli (in Silver), “For his commitment to the struggle against apartheid and service to the people of South Africa.” He was awarded the Military Veterans Medal in Platinum Class II by the President in 2012 for his part in the armed struggle for liberation. He has received other honours.
Denis answers some of the questions people often ask, such as: Why did a young White get involved to the point of risking his life for freedom for Black South Africans. What happened to his family? How can an armed struggle be justified? Why did Black people accept him in that struggle? How did Whites respond to his belief in a non-racial society?
He tells of his upbringing and growing awareness of the inhumanity of the racially segregated society he lived in. He describes his growing involvement with organisations of the oppressed Black population of Africans, Coloured and Indian people (to use the slightly polished language of apartheid) to put an end to a society based upon ‘racism by law.’ It is a story of commitment and action that led to him spending 22 years in prison and when he was released he continued his political activity until and after apartheid was brought to its formal end with the election of Nelson Mandela to be the first President of the new democratic Republic of South Africa with guarantees for the equal rights of all its citizens.
It his personal story rather than a detailed discussion of how and when particular decisions were made, except where he had a direct role in the discussions. He acknowledges errors in policy or their application and he rejoices in what has been achieved. It is a story of passion and the effects of political struggle for freedom for all on his family and others, of love and death and compassion. He believes that revolutions are made for the benefit of all and not only a small elite.
Sam and Annie Goldberg, two Jewish Communists, from London’s East End settled in Cape Town during the 1920s. Their second son, Denis, was born there in 1933.
His story starts long before he was born. Dr Zwelidinga Pallo Jordan’s fascinating description of the political landscape of Cape Town is to be found in Appendix 2