Blog: Denis Goldberg – a tireless campaigner for justice, and a friend

I was saddened to hear the news that our comrade and friend Denis Goldberg had passed away late on 29 April.

Denis dedicated his life to the struggle against apartheid and the building of a new, non-racial South Africa. He was a freedom fighter, an inspirational and visionary politician and a tireless campaigner for justice, rights and democracy.

Denis was arrested in 1963 alongside other members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, and was sentenced to life imprisonment, as one of the Rivonia trialists, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada.

Whilst his black comrades were incarcerated on Robben Island, Denis spent 22 years isolated in a whites-only prison – Pretoria Central – until his release in 1985.

Denis Goldberg continued the fight against apartheid in exile, following his release. He lived in the UK until 2002, from where he worked to build international support for the ANC and a free South Africa.

It was during this time he got to know UNISON and our predecessor unions and the contribution we made to the anti-apartheid movement and the building of a new South Africa.

When Denis established Community H.E.A.R.T in 1995 to support development projects in southern Africa, he turned to UNISON for help.

I am proud of the role our union has played in supporting the development of South Africa, through Community H.E.A.R.T, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) and our own UNISON International Development Fund (UIDF).

Denis became an advisor to government ministers when he returned to South Africa. He always gave a warm welcome to trade unionists who visited him at his home in Hout Bay near Cape Town.

From here, well into his retirement he worked tirelessly to bring communities divided by apartheid together, and provide educational opportunities to young people in South Africa. In more recent years, whenever political leaders strayed away from the values of the liberation movement, Denis would speak truth to power.

I am immensely proud that Denis was an honorary life member of UNISON. He was a great friend of our union. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and comrades.

Hamba Kahle Denis – go well. You will always be an inspiration to UNISON.