Railway servants were not allowed to be involved in politics, especially at that time. I got fired, and that was quite a tough time for us, we didn't have any money. Madi Gray: weve touched on the organizations, like you being involved in the congress of Democrats, but you mentioned an organization at university i've not heard. Denis Goldberg: At the university of Cape town there was an organization called the modern World Society. It involved people like simon from Rhodesia and lionel Foreman and many others. They wanted to have contact with black working class youths, as good Marxists they had to have contact with the working class, but university rules prohibited non-students from attending political events on campus, so they formed the modern youth Society. Before my time, amy rietstein was there, mary turok, ben Turok, albie sachs, Esme bodenstein who became my wife, bubbles Thorne and others. George peake came to them.
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You had to bend the stick too far the other way to stress the need for an armed struggle. I'm explaining essay the background. So that's a quick resumé of me becoming involved. I online 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. Madi Gray: In 1956? In 1956 it was adopted, but the call to the Freedom Charter was made in 1955. I was working on the railways as an engineering technician. I hadn't finished at university yet, and spoke at a meeting in Simonstown one saturday afternoon. When i arrived at work on Monday i found a letter on my desk dismissing.
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 thered be an instruction through an anc channel and we'd find theyd paper disappeared, so we didn't have them available. There was a swing to the left among the leaders, who thought wed 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.
As george was priming the explosive, the police took him. They switched on their car headlights and had him pinned down. He was quite lucky that the timing professional device was not very good. It was later dismantled and the timing device went off in the hands of a policeman exactly 24 hours later. Luckily it didn't go off at the time, because it would have blown george up and they wouldn't let george disarm. Madi Gray: This was behind the roeland Street jail, now the State Archives? We did a lot of stuff and the main aim was to write 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 learn slowly how to reconnoitre a target, how to advance and how to retreat and be safe. That's the way we worked. Madi Gray: Did you start in 1961, the 16th of December? Denis Goldberg: I do have to say that the bombs I made that night didn't go off. With one, there was a mix-up over timing. The other george peake was to plant at the back door of the roeland Street jail. We know who it was.
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He was called looksmart, because his mother thought he looked smart and. Madi Gray: And so he lived up to that. Denis Goldberg: he did, and nightly had such an influence on other people around him. He was handsome, good looking, and had a wonderful smile. He was a delight as a comrade. We chose not to use explosives in Cape town, but to do cold sabotage. Throw a rope over a huge disaster 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. Looksmart was the field Commander. They brought in police vans from all over the cape peninsula, paarl, wellington, and other areas to line this line of cables and telephone wires, so looksmart reconnoitred; he would watch and see where they were and then go between them. We had no military instructors and had to learn for ourselves, so why make an explosion or compel them to go all out for you?
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. It's taken 60 years to get here and its a great fulfilment for. 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. I was a trained engineer and you needed trained people. So i became a weapons maker in Cape town. I worked with Fred Carneson and looksmart Ngudle and Barney desai in our Regional Command. Looksmart Ngudle was the first to be murdered under interrogation in 1963. Such a great tragedy. He was a wonderful man.
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I got involved just before i wrote my under-graduate thesis in paper 1953, because i met a young woman, Esme bodenstein, who was involved. To me, going to meetings in the modern youth Society, which was in a way out of kilter with Congress because it was a non-racial youth organization, was like coming home. I felt comfortable and I could talk openly. That was the beginning, when we learnt a lot about organising. Madi Gray: Were you at the university of Cape town then? 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 for people. You couldn't build dams for black people because the government wouldn't spend the money, nor for roads and railways.
Denis Goldberg: General Magnus Malan. The former Commanding Officer said that the south African troops were so well disciplined, they would never have done things like that. They would not shoot people and put them in a mass grave. This is outrageous nonsense when we know of the role of south African troops in Namibia. Some had spit-roasted people to get evidence. All this came out, and we all know this, but they were fined R100, this sort of trivial slap on the wrist. The question was, when did I get involved.
if a political party loses, it loses power. I went home and said, It says all adults vote, but only whites vote. My parents didn't say, like most others would, Shush, shush, those are grown up things. They said I was right. The book was wrong and what it said was not true. We knew about it, and the reason I'm stressing this is that still today whites say they didn't know what happened. Here very recently general Malan, the commanding Officer in Namibia said he didn't know what happened when they found mass graves in Namibia. He had nothing to do with anything like that. Madi Gray: Are you talking about General Magnus Malan, minister of Defence under President otha?
I also remember when I was aged about ten, a group of us were coming home from school one day, and we saw a man who in south African parlance was coloured, running to catch a train. He was running so fast. Add to the story that our fourth grade teacher was the western Province half mile champion. His nickname was Tinkie, because he was quite little. Somebody said, look at that man run. He's faster than Tinkie! Another ten year old said, he can't be faster than Tinkie, tinkie is the half mile champion. A third, and I wish I could remember his name, essay said, but he can't run against Tinkie, because he's coloured. There we were, ten years old and we knew these things.
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Madi Gray: Denis, how did you personally become involved in the struggle for liberation? Denis Goldberg: my parents were of the communist left. By the age of six i knew about surplus value, i knew about the poverty of workers in general, but black workers in particular in south Africa, the mixture of national oppression, exploitation and unemployment. I grew up during World War. I was reading the news headlines whilst sitting on my father's lap when I was six years old, so i knew about the nazi invasions of Europe and the soviet entry Union, of the war in Far East and i knew the significance. I couldn't have told you about Kristallnacht, but i knew about the events and i knew about concentration camps. All of this was part of my background.