Goldbery, Mandela’s co-accused.

Goldbery, Mandela’s co-accused.

When all the eyes for decades have focused on Mandela, one man’s fight for freedom, it’s no surprise that the stories of others who fought apartheid have been eclipsed.

22 years in prison is the story of Denis Goldberg, one of the seven co-accused who was tried with Mandela in the Rivonia trial in 1964.

The story of the only white and youngest trialist remains relatively untold.

His life and a generation of people were sacrificed in the struggle against apartheid. Segregated, even in prison, Goldberg was sentenced to four life imprisonments at just 31 years old and sent to Pretoria Central Prison. His black co-accused, shipped off to Robben Island. “Being black and involved (in the struggle) meant you had the support of many people and it meant you got to be part of a community. Being white and involved meant being isolated.” [1]

Goldberg was a white man fighting in a predominately black man’s war, but he wasn’t the only one. He was, however, the only white man who stood with Mandela in the Rivonia trial. Mandela spoke of the struggle of the African people with Goldberg at his side.

Nelson Mandela said: “This is the struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But, if needs be, my Lord, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” — 20 April 1964

Goldberg too was prepared to die, but instead he would give his 30s and 40s to the struggle, leaving his wife and two children, who would eventually leave South Africa and be exiled in the UK. Goldberg’s sacrifice. In 1985, he was released and he went on to campaign for human rights and better conditions for the people of his nation.

While, the magnitude of Mandela will live long into the history books, as it should, it is also the stories of Goldberg, and others like him, who fought against apartheid that need to be told. Stories give a window into an apartheid regime that I struggle to comprehend, where a white freedom fighter stood with his black co-accused and change the world.

Denis Goldberg died in 2020.