Saturday, October 15, 2011

Meeting Denis Goldberg, Freedom Fighter

On Friday the group had lunch with Denis Goldberg. Goldberg was tried alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, the only white man to be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Raised by Communist parents in a working class suburb of Johannesburg, Goldberg recognized the gross inequalities in South Africa at a young age and joined the struggle against the Apartheid government in his twenties. Because of his background in engineering, he was recruited by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, to assist in its mission of sabotage. He built bombs, planned missions, and trained recruits. Eventually caught, Goldberg spent 22 years incarcerated, separated from his family and his comrades. Goldberg was sent alone to a prison for whites in Pretoria, while his black comrades went together to Robben Island. The men on Robben Island built a community of dissidents within the prison; companionship was crucial to the survival of their bodies, minds, and spirits. Alienated and alone in Pretoria, Goldberg did not have this support system. The white warders who worked at the prison harbored a deep hatred for Goldberg because they saw his support of the black struggle as a betrayal of his race. Consequently, he was not allowed to see his wife and had limited contact with his children. Despite these hardships and enormous sacrifices, Goldberg continued to fight for the ANC after his release from prison in 1985. In exile in London, he became a spokesperson for the struggle abroad while attempting a private reconciliation with a wife and children he had not seen for decades. Goldberg eventually returned to South Africa to work in the new government. Today, he is an activist, a writer, a lecturer and an advocate. He founded H.E.A.R.T, a non-profit whose mission is to better the living conditions of black children in South Africa. He also raises money for a variety of organizations that promote racial equality. One such organization is a music academy that gives disadvantaged children opportunities through music. A talented young singer from this academy entertained us during lunch. Goldberg is a gifted orator - his words were, for lack of a better word, inspirational. He spoke with equanimity about the struggles of the current ANC leadership, explained why he believes that an armed struggle against Apartheid was necessary in South Africa, and urged the students to see the apartheid not as a racial issue, but as an issue of human rights. He said (and I paraphrase): "I was not struggling for black rights in South Africa, but for HUMAN rights." Many of the girls were able to purchase Goldberg's memoir, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa, but everyone was not able to get the book before they left South Africa:


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