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Denis Goldberg dies, the only white man convicted along with Mandela for fighting against apartheid

He was sentenced to life in prison at the Rivonia trials in 1964 and spent 22 years in prison.

South Africa.- Denis Goldberg dies, the only white man convicted along with Mandela for fighting against apartheidThe anti-apartheid activist Denis Goldberg, the only white man convicted along with Nelson Mandela and other icons of the liberation struggle in South Africa in the Rivonia trials in 1964, has died at the age of 87, as announced on Thursday by his foundation.

Goldberg passed away late Wednesday after suffering from lung cancer for the past two years, Debbie Budlender, manager of the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust, told DPA, stressing that her long life is “a sign of her determination and value”.

With Goldberg’s death, of the 10 convicted in what was defined as the ‘trial that changed South Africa’ only one is left alive, Andrew Mlangeni, 94.

Born in Cape Town and trained as an engineer, Goldberg served 22 years of a life sentence after being found guilty of “campaigning to overthrow the government through a violent revolution.”

With Jewish ancestors, Goldberg was raised in a liberal home and engaged in activism at an early age, well aware of the injustice of the apartheid regime, which forced segregation between blacks and whites and denied the latter the right to vote.

He first joined the South African Communist Party, an illegal organization aligned with Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), and later joined the armed wing of this second party, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Sword of the Nation).

He was arrested during a raid on an ANC safe house in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg, in July 1963 and was interrogated and tortured. During the trial, the ten defendants were expected to be sentenced to death, and Goldberg later recounted how excited he was by Mandela’s celebrated speech in court about how he was prepared to die for a raceless South Africa.

Given the racial division of the apartheid system, after his conviction Goldberg was separated from his black comrades incarcerated on Robben Island and imprisoned in the capital, Pretoria. Later, he would talk about the isolation he felt in that period. “As he was white, his hatred for me was even greater, because they saw me as a traitor,” he said.

His wife Esme Bodenstein, also a veteran of the struggle who was detained several times for her activism and held in isolation, lived in exile in London while her husband was in prison. After being released in 1985, Golberg met her in the United Kingdom, where she became an ANC spokesperson and also represented the movement on the United Nations Committee against Apartheid.

Goldberg returned to South Africa almost a decade after the end of apartheid and held a government position as special adviser to another Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran, Ronnie Kasrils, then Minister of Water and Forest Affairs.

Like his friend and also convicted at the Rivonia trial, Ahmed Kathrada – who died in March 2017 -, Goldberg became critical of the ANC and former President Jacob Zuma, who is currently facing multiple corruption charges.

Goldberg remained involved in various projects and founded the Denis Goldberg Foundation Trust, which seeks to “spread the message of tolerance, debate, justice and multiculturalism”. He was especially interested in the role that the arts could play in bringing about social change.

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