Denis Goldberg, aged 86, is one of two Rivonia Trialists still alive. The second is Andrew Mlangeni. They were sentenced together with Nelson Mandela and other key opponents of apartheid. Goldberg served twenty-two years in Pretoria Central Prison, after which, in 1985, he went into exile.
After his return to South Africa in 2002, I read an interview somewhere, in which he said that one of the things that impressed him when he regained his freedom, was how the trees he’d known before incarceration, had grown.
When I met Denis, some years later, I mentioned how this had touched me, and I asked how he had survived prison without seeing trees, without hearing their sound of singing in the wind.
He replied: ‘Ah, but my children. My children, like the trees, had also grown without me seeing them.’
Denis recently opened Forgotten Liberators at the Desmod and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town. This photographic exhibition focuses on the victims of Nazism and fascism. It highlights the contribution of some two million British and French colonial subjects, including South African soldiers of all races, most of them unacknowledged, who fought against these dark human forces during World War 2.
After his opening speech, I noticed his seated posture, and the way he clasped his head in thought, perhaps in memory; perhaps reflecting on the personal sacrifice he had made in his fight against apartheid; perhaps remembering his deprivation of children and trees.
‘Forgotten Liberators’ reminds us to be vigilant against hatred and intolerance, and not to be blinded by fascist rhetoric, but rather to strive for goodwill and peace.
This is the poem I read afterwards, not to anyone, just to myself:
Found poem: Reflecting on Thermopylae
[Salisbury, Rhodesia 1972
By Gavin Wall, as told to Patricia Schonstein]
When I’m on guard
I look at the stars.
You see them there
In the bush
Like nowhere else,
Because you know it might well be
Your final time with them.
I reflect on the epitaph
We spoke of on my last pass,
When once we drove out
On the Lomagundi Road:
Go tell the Spartans,
Thou that passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws,
And I know that this
Is the wrong war for us and that
We should not be fighting it,
Because we are outnumbered,
As were they at Thermopylae,
Though here there is no narrow pass
But only this massive bush
Where you have to track
And follow and mind for ambush and mines,
But where the epitaph
Will surely be the same.
‘Forgotten Liberators’ exhibition, shown at The Old Granary in Cape Town in 2019, marked Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s 88th birthday. It was developed in Cologne, Germany, by Recherche International.
Poem from: Africa Ablaze! Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict
African Sun Press.ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5