"A man is a man"

Denis Goldberg spent 22 years of his life in a high-security prison in Pretoria, South Africa. In 1964, he had been sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy against the government, along with Nelson Mandela and six other men.


Today, he gave a talk in front of Year 12 students at Geschwister-Scholl-Schule in Solingen. "Especially in a school that carries the name of resistance fighters, it is important to let people tell their stories", says principal Ingeborg Friege. "You have to talk to young people. Get them to show civil courage", adds Goldberg.



As a white South African, he had all the freedoms he wanted in the 1950's and 60's. However, he decided to do something against the supression of the rest of South Africa's people. He became part of an underground-group called "Umkhonto we Sizwe" (Spear of the Nation) of which Nelson Mandela was also a member. This group was the military wing of the ANC, the African National Congress, Mandela's later ruling party. "We blew up some buildings, yes, but we never injured anyone! That was important to us!" Goldberg admits that he led some training camps. "I never told the judges they were military camps. They didn't need to know. But we were preparing for armed struggle." In those days, skin colour decided about what you were allowed to do. "Blacks always had to carry a passbook. Were they stopped by police and they didn't have it with them, they were arrested", Goldberg explains.


The 76-year-old learned as a child to meet everyone with respect and dignity. "I remember sitting on my father's lap as a boy and reading the headlines about the War in Europe. They were going on about racism, and I kept wondering why they were fighting it abroad, while it was part of the daily life in our country." He never fought explicitly on the side of black South Africans. "It wasn't black Africans versus white Africans. After all, a man is a man. We were only fighting against white domination."



Who betrayed him and his friends in the end, Goldberg never found out. On the day they were arrested, Goldberg was supposed to go into town to buy everything needed to make grenades. "Iwas lazy, I didn't go. I can't imagine the trouble I would have been in, had I returned to the raid carrying weapons!" They could have been sentenced with the death penalty during the Rivonia Trial. "We got life imprisonment, and we were happy. We got to live!" However, he didn't make a lot of friends in prison. "They could understand, in a way, why Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned on Robben Island, fought for 'his' people, the black community. But everyone felt that I, as a white South African, had betrayed them when I started to fight for equality", Denis Goldberg explains. While he was in prison, the civil engineer returned to university studies and now holds two PhD's.


After he was released from prison in 1985, Goldberg joined his family in exile and lived in London for 18 years. Now he has returned to Cape Town, South Africa and is still politically active. "That's just me. I don't know any other way!"

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