Denis Goldberg

By: Emily Thompson

Goldberg's Life

Denis Goldberg was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1933. Throughout his life, Goldberg involved himself in several different organizations starting with The Modern Youth Society at the University of Cape Town, and later the Congress of Democrats. As a very influential political activist, Goldberg became an executive member of the Congress of Democrats and had allies in the African National Congress.

Goldberg spent the majority of his life working for the anti-apartheid movement. As forms of protest he was involved in helping foreign troops in an armed invasion of South Africa, making weapons for the ANC army and holding the title of Technical Officer, and campaigning to overthrow the government. These acts caused him to be thrown in jail for twenty two years, but even after imprisonment he continued to work with the ANC and create his own organization called H.E.A.R.T., to help the lives of black South Africans. All of these significant acts toward the anti-apartheid movement caused Goldberg to be awarded the Albert Luthuli Peace Prize. As a white man working for equality with black South Africans, Goldberg was able to bring more attention to the anti apartheid movement from whites. His actions caused the world to get a new perspective on how important this cause was, and that it was not going away. Whites could now look at the protests and see that apartheid affected not only blacks, which caused more support internationally for the anti-apartheid movement.

Denis Goldberg Interview at The Nordic Africa Institute with Madi Gray

Denis Goldberg: I was at UCT where I studied Civil Engineering. One of the reasons for getting involved, besides my background and political upbringing, was that I really and truly wanted to build for people. This was important, because you couldn't build for all the people in South Africa, you could only build for white people. You couldn't build dams for black people because the Government wouldn't spend the money, nor for roads and railways. It was morally wrong. First you had to get rid of apartheid, then you could build for people.
Here I am, 60 years later, 72 years of age, and I work for the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry and I bring water to people and I help shape policy for sanitation and for growing trees for commercial purposes, so people who have never had anything can have an income. It's taken 60 years to get here and it’s a great fulfilment for me. In the 1950s I joined the Congress of Democrats and the Communist Party underground. In the 1960s I joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, which many commentators call the ANC army) as Technical Officer.

Goldberg: We chose not to use explosives in Cape Town, but to do cold sabotage. Throw a rope over a huge bunch of telephone lines and pull them down and the whole of Somerset West and the Strand and Gordons Bay had no telephones. Or our MK people dug up a cable and put a pick axe to it, so all the telephones out along the coast were dead. The telecoms people could come and fix it up, but the point was the security forces had to stop this happening.

Goldberg: You learn slowly how to reconnoitre a target, how to advance and how to retreat and be safe. That's the way we worked.

Denis Goldberg: Yes. We did a lot of stuff and the main aim was to try and build trust, build self-confidence. We in the Western Cape MK Command had a major dispute with our organization. We'd read the books on guerrilla warfare. You do not send all your people out. You have to maintain your political structures, one for information, two for safety, three for recruits. You've got to have somebody there so we would consciously not send certain people out. Then there’d be an instruction through an ANC channel and we'd find they’d disappeared, so we didn't have them available. There was a swing to the left among the leaders, who thought we’d train people for a few months and they would then come back and overthrow the apartheid army of 400 000 men. That was a bit absurd, but I do understand the left-wing emphasis. But it was a dispute nevertheless, and it led to friction. We were going by the book and they were going by emotion. Part of the emotion was to overcome the Ghandian influence in both the Indian Congress and the ANC. You had to bend the stick too far the other way to stress the need for an armed struggle. I'm explaining the background. So that's a quick resumé of me becoming involved. I was in the Congress of Democrats and at various times I was Branch Chairman and Branch Treasurer. We took part in getting people involved. My first big campaign that I was involved in was the Congress of the People.


Denis Goldberg." Denis Goldberg. Nordic Documentation on the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Denis Theodore Goldberg." Anonymous. South African History Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Joyce, P. (1999). A Concise Dictionary of South African Biography, Cape Town: Francolin