One of the key figures in the South African anti-Apartheid movement was in Shetland this week to deliver a deeply moving and emotional account of his 22-year incarceration and lifelong fight against racism.
Denis Goldberg, now 76, spent more than two decades in a Pretoria jail after standing in the dock charged with sabotage and treason alongside Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others in the famous 1963-4 Rivonia Trial.
After being sentenced to life imprisonment he was eventually released in 1985 and has since represented South Africa at the United Nations after the African National Congress took power in 1994.
He gave an hour-long talk – broadly focused on his own remarkable life experiences – at the museum on Tuesday afternoon. It was an extraordinarily powerful speech delivered in a quietly thoughtful manner, by turns passionately emotional, thought-provoking and in places amusing. He described how and why he first became a political activist in the years following World War Two, before providing a harrowing description of being interrogated by police officers to the point where he was literally left staring down the barrel of a gun for long periods.
Professor Goldberg was given a minute-long standing ovation at the end of his talk before a short question and answer session with teachers and pupils taking part in this year’s Global Classroom conference. Afterwards, he told The Shetland Times of his horror at learning that two members of the fascist British National Party had been elected to the European Parliament this week. Ninety-two Shetlanders were among those who voted for the BNP, which denies membership to non-whites.
He said: “I’m appalled that there are people in Britain who don’t remember any history, don’t want to know it, don’t know of the sacrifices that were made to maintain a democratic tradition, to overcome the racism. To consider the immigrants from the Caribbean, for example, the West Indian people who served Britain’s economy when it needed help, and now they’re saying ‘get out, you’re doing our jobs’. These are not people, the BNP people, who want to do the work – they don’t want to do the jobs.
“I can’t accept this as being decent or rational and I don’t understand how they think they will solve the problems. Send people home to the Caribbean? Will Britain be better, or poorer? You judge a person by who they are or what they are. It doesn’t matter if their voice, their accent, their dialect is different – can you talk to each other? Do you share values? Judge a person by who that person is, not by what you think they might be.”
* For full coverage of Professor Goldberg’s talk, see this Friday’s edition of The Shetland Times.