Denis Goldberg: Making life better for people. Is that not what the revolution was about?

Denis Goldberg at a Community HEART fundaiser with Cathal, son of UNISON Scotland policy officer Stephen Low

Tributes poured in across the world last month on the news of the death of veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and honorary UNISON member Denis Goldberg.

UNISON Scotland had a long friendship with Denis and we were continually inspired by him.

He was sentenced in 1964 in South Africa alongside Nelson Mandela for his part in the struggle against apartheid. On his release 22 years later, he continued to work to overcome the apartheid regime.

He visited us often and, in Glasgow at the launch of his book in 2008, he said of Scotland: “After being released from prison, my goodness, it was like being at home, of being enfolded by people wanting to help. Which is why I am here today”.

We were proud to support his charity Community HEART, managed by UNISON member Isobel McVicar, which has contributed to better access to education, HIV/AIDS projects, supporting those affected by violence against women, health projects, and housing projects.

Latterly we called for support for the Denis Goldberg House of Hope arts and culture education centre where he lived in Hout Bay.

UNISON Scottish secretary Mike Kirby was with him on a trade union visit to South Africa in 2000.

He said: “I saw first hand the power of the emotion and respect he generated in those who had come through the struggle against apartheid.

“Whether we met his former comrades like Ahmed Karhrada, the trade union and government officials, the people of Soweto, Denis was greatly acknowledged for his historical role and his continuing endeavours.”

Denis had been outspoken about elements in government in South Africa in recent years. In Glasgow in 2012, he slammed those who had “forgotten why we had a revolution.”

Denis’s most recent focus had been on initiatives like a music project that brings races together to feel joy and achievement they would never otherwise have experienced and a psychotherapy project for children, disastrously affected by the trauma of events.

“After all”, Denis told a meeting in Glasgow at the STUC, “it is all about trying to make life better for people. Is that not what the revolution was about?”

Few of us will have had the fortune to have met and known such a significant figure in the struggle for equality and justice as Denis Goldberg. We will remember his inspiring presence but also his modesty, humanity and warm friendship.

Our thoughts go out to his family and many friends and comrades across the world.

By John Stevenson