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Facing Death With The Man Who Dared The Judge To Hang

Denis Goldberg is one of the last survivors of those who faced the death penalty with Nelson Mandela—a tight-knit band of activists who faced death together.

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June 12, 1964 was a cold and miserable day for Denis Goldberg and his comrades. They shuffled out of the cells and up the wooden steps to the courtroom at the Palace of Justice, in Pretoria, expecting to be told they were going to die.

Goldberg had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other activists facing charges of sabotage. Mandela and his comrades spent months in the cells contemplating how large the death penalty loomed.

Former South African president and Nobel peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela (L) greets former political prisoner Dennis Goldberg (R) during a Lunch for Apartherid former political prisoners at Genadendal, the official residence of the president, in Cape Town, South Africa on February 12, 2010. AFP PHOTO/GCIS/HO/Elmond Jiyane –RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE—

“One day he says to me ‘Denis, I want you to know that when you teach poor people about Marxism, don’t talk about slavery and feudalism and mercantile capitalism, that’s European stuff our people don’t know or understand it, it’s meaningless. You have to talk about Southern African society, how we get to be where we are, the working class and this and that.’ And I said to him, ‘I understand that but why are you telling me?’ He said ‘Oh, I just want you to know what I think’, we didn’t take it further but I was quite sure he was confident, no, certain, that he was going to be hanged,” says Goldberg at Liliesleaf, in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, where he was arrested nearly half a century ago ahead of the trial of the century.

Tension was high in the packed courtroom on that fateful June day, where the judge surprised many by handing down life imprisonment, instead of the death penalty.

“And it dawned on us that we weren’t going to die, not then anyway, and we laughed, my memory is we laughed. Two great moments in that trial, the other one is Nelson daring the judge to hang him, hang Walter, hang Dennis, hang them all and then, that not happening. What a moment,” says Goldberg.

“About a year ago, I asked him why they didn’t hang us, he said: ‘I dared them to and they didn’t dare.’” He has always had this simple psychology; you stand up to people and dare them to the limit. I think it’s more complex, than he’s saying, but that challenge was a very important challenge. Here, were thoughtful leaders.”

Imprisonment, on that cold June day, was the end of a short but memorable association with Mandela. Goldberg was incarcerated in a whites-only prison in Pretoria, while Mandela was sent back to Robben Island and the two didn’t meet again for nearly 30 years.

The two met through activism. Goldberg grew up in a family of activists in Cape Town and was drawn to the underground movement. Because he was a road engineer, everyone assumed he could make bombs and it became his job. Mandela had worked his way up to be a lawyer and head of the ANC Youth League. The two men, who were like chalk and cheese, stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the dock in Pretoria.

“They brought Nelson to the court in leg-irons and handcuffs and this humiliating prison house-boy’s uniform. When I bought my first suit I paid 12 guineas for it. Nelson wore tailored suites that cost 75 guineas—I’m trying to say, that this is a very elegant dresser. And he stood there in his prison uniform. Legally, he should not be handcuffed and in leg-irons before the judge because it’s prejudicial, but he was looking so elegant and very hungry. He’d been in prison on Robben Island and this very strongly built man of 45 had sunken cheeks, eyes staring a bit, but holding himself… he was not going to be brow-beaten. Impressive, very impressive. I had a slab of chocolate with me, I showed it to him… I was standing right next to him and indicating if he wanted some. I broke off a square and gave it to him, he took it in his handcuffed hands, right over his face, and there was a little sharp corner near his sunken cheeks and he sucked it, as only a prisoner who has no sweet things can enjoy. As soon as it was gone, then he asked for a bit more,” says Goldberg.

Goldberg served 22 years in prison and was escorted by police out of his own country to spend even more years in exile in London. He returned to South Africa, around 10 years ago , to advise the new government and now lives in tranquil retirement in Hout Bay, near Cape Town. Goldberg believes this retirement would not have been so peaceful if it had not been for the great man himself.

“There’s enough bitterness, there’s enough anger and resentment, had there been a real civil war in the streets we wouldn’t be where we are today, we wouldn’t be sitting at Liliesleaf. We’d be sitting in the smoking ruins of destroyed country, so Nelson Mandela with this whole background, he, Nelson Mandela taking office with this whole background of four years of negotiation and putting out the fires of the violence of the apartheid,” he says.

Billionaires

Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Current Affairs

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died

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This is a developing story.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.

“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”

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Current Affairs

Ethiopia’s First Female President On Plans To Combat Covid-19 And Resuscitate The Economy

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Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, spoke to FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, on the country’s plans to combat Covid-19 and resuscitate one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Zewde, listed as one of Africa’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women’ in the March issue of FORBES AFRICA, says while the virus didn’t warrant the nation going into complete lockdown, it has hit some sectors of the East African country’s economy, affecting its GDP growth.

In early May, the government announced a package to bolster healthcare spending, food distribution, rebuild SMMEs, etc to support the country’s most vulnerable. Zewde also shares her views on women in the front lines, as well as reimagining education.

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