Farewell Denis Goldberg

Denis Goldberg passed away at his home last week. Picture: Brenton Geach

Hout Bay and the rest of the country will say their final goodbye to veteran South African anti-apartheid activist, Denis Theodore Goldberg, who passed away aged 87 last week.

Mr Goldberg had lung cancer and died at his Hout Bay home just before midnight on Wednesday April 29.

Debbie Budlender, manager for the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust, said due to lockdown restrictions the trust is planning to host an online memorial service this Friday May 8.

Speaking about how they are coping, Ms Budlender said: “There is an immense sadness, but also great pride and admiration for who Denis was and what he did, joy and gratitude at all the tributes and condolences pouring in, and a feeling of privilege that we were able to know and work with him and can take his dream project forward as a small contribution towards achieving the South Africa that he lived and fought for.”

The trust will continue moving forward with establishing the Denis Goldberg House of Hope arts and culture education centre on the site of the Hout Bay Museum, Ms Budlender said, adding: “That was Denis’s dream and will be one of his legacies for the community that was his home for the last many years.”

Mr Goldberg is an icon of the struggle for freedom in South Africa. Born on April 11 1933, the son of immigrant parents, Sam and Annie, Lithuanian Jews who were actively opposed to apartheid, Mr Goldberg learned in early childhood to respect all people and became politically active in the struggle against apartheid.

He studied at the University of Cape Town where he graduated as a civil engineer. A member of the South African Communist Party, the ANC and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mr Goldberg was sentenced in the Rivonia Trial of 1963-1964, the only white man alongside Nelson Mandela and others, to life imprisonment for participation in the armed struggle against apartheid.

After 22 years in prison, he resumed political activity in 1985, continuing to campaign against apartheid from his base in London with his family, until the apartheid system was fully abolished with the 1994 election.

Following the dawn of democracy in South Africa in 1994, Mr Goldberg set up the Community H.E.A.R.T welfare fund in the UK and Germany to support social projects in South Africa. He returned to South Africa in 2002 and founded the non-profit Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust in 2015, which supports his work and his vision.

Mr Goldberg has lived in Hout Bay for more than two decades and has initiated and supported many activities, including at the Hout Bay Museum, assisting in the research of the social history of Hout Bay. He was also instrumental in researching A Decolonised” History. The 3rd World in World War 2.

The Hout Bay community paid tribute to Mr Goldberg as the news of the struggle veteran’s death spread.

An upcoming artist and aspiring dancer from Imizamo Yethu, Sinethemba Ndlovu, had the privilege of meeting Mr Goldberg last year at a brief concert in Hout Bay and said she was moved by his caring ways. “He kept asking me where I am heading and what I wanted to do with my life. He gave me advice and told me what to do and what not to do,” she said.

“I never felt like he was better than me or trying to be better. I only got this caring feeling and after learning how much he went through and what his visions were for our community, I was completely moved by it all.”

Formerly from Hout Bay, well-known dance teacher, Ricardo Koopman, said the news of Mr Goldberg’s death has sent a wave of sadness through the country and most South Africans will be feeling the loss.

“My absolutely deepest sympathy at Denis’ passing. He was such an unbelievable person with such a good heart. I had the privilege of being able to meet him, which I am so proud of,” he said.

He shared his fondest moment of Mr Goldberg – a story of how he walked from Hout Bay to Cape Town for dance lessons and seeing Mr Goldberg’s expression when he learnt of this. “He was absolutely fascinated and amazed at the courage that I displayed to have done that to pursue my dreams. He always inspired me to never give up what I am doing and he always had some wise words to share with us,” Mr Koopman said. “He was a man of real dignity and always had great respect for the arts and he will be missed dearly in our hearts.”

The Hout Bay Ingoma Choir from Imizamo Yethu had the honour of performing for Mr Goldberg on a number of occasions as well as taking part in concerts to raise funds for Mr Goldberg’s dream projects.

“Denis was a great supporter of many arts and music organisations, including the Hout Bay Ingoma Choir. He loved African choral music, and we arranged a special version of Pata Pata for him, which was one of his favourite songs,” Tanya Blacher, founder and manager of the choir, said.

She said Mr Goldberg loved seeing people of different backgrounds and communities coming together, and disadvantaged people getting the opportunity to shine.

“Denis will be sorely missed, but we will keep his legacy alive and ensure that the House of Hope gets built in order that these arts opportunities are available for all Hout Bay youth, as was his dream,” she said.

Hout Bay-based James House, an organisation that provides child and youth care for the disadvantaged in the community, was also fortunate to have been aided by Mr Goldberg.

Hellen Matsvisi, advocacy officer for James House, said the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust was instrumental during the school holidays, sponsoring their holiday programme for 40 children.

“So many children looked forward to the school holiday activities, keeping the little ones busy and providing a lunch pack made the world of difference to our children, specifically during a time when community violence was at a peak and the little children made their way, led by older children, to James House so that they could feel safe. With the financial assistance from the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust , we could be the beacon of hope to our children,” she said.

“We deeply saddened by this loss, the trust had created opportunities for James House to provide positivity to young lives.”

Last year the University of Cape Town bestowed an honorary doctorate, DScEng (honoris causa) on Mr Goldberg. On receiving his honorary doctorate, the struggle icon remarked: “I am very proud that my university, my alma mater, my sweet mother is, at last, recognising the fact that a guy who made weapons to put an end to the state violence, needs recognition.”

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, UCT Vice-Chancellor, said: “The struggle icon and philanthropist will be remembered for his exceptional and selfless fighting spirit, activism and as being a symbol of a promise for a liberatory future. May his undying lasting legacy live on and continue to inspire generations for years to come. We celebrate the life and substantial contributions of an extraordinary South African.”

The memorial for Mr Goldberg will be live streamed and also broadcast by the SABC this Friday May 8, from 2.45pm to 4pm. A minimum number of people, including guest speakers, will participate directly in the online memorial to ensure good quality transmission to the many others who will want to watch through an internet link or by watching SABC TV.

Ms Budlender said after the lockdown is over, a full national memorial for Mr Goldberg will be organised, allowing a larger number of people to participate directly.

His cremation was being organised as a very small, private family affair.

Ms Budlender thanked everyone for all the messages received at this difficult time.

For more on the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust, log on to www.goldberghouseofhope.co.za