Explore his life: 1933 - 2020
An ordinary man, an extraordinary life
Explore Denis Goldberg’s extraordinary life by clicking on the text and archive below
Denis Goldberg was sentenced – alongside Mandela, Motsoaledi, Kathrada, Mlangeni, Mhlaba, Mbeki and Sisulu – to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial of 1963/64. He then spent 22 years in prison in Pretoria, separated from his comrades because he was white. After his release, he went on to make significant contributions to building a democratic South Africa.
Denis Goldberg’s birth
11 April 1933
The school years
The university years
Marriage to Esme Bodenstein
9 April 1954
The early 1950s
The Communist Party
The Sharpeville Massacre and first detention
21 March 1960
Release from detention
Denis is recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)
Raid on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Sandton
May 1963 – 11 July
September – October 1963
The Rivonia Trial
The sentence and its impact
12 June 1964
Denis’s studies in Pretoria Jail
Letters and visits
Meeting personal needs
Access to news and stimulation
The Pretoria white male prisoner community
Bram Fischer – Diary of medical treatment 1974-1975
What follows about AF’s medical treatment has to be used with great care. (1) Ostensibly there could not be access to his medical file, 2) because there might be simple (!?) medical reasons for what happened – but I doubt it.
12(?) May ’74 AF to hospital after ulcer haemorrhaged some days in hospital then in Central prison hospital for a few days. No op, but transfusion etc.
July ’74 Request and with Doctor’s recommendation AF has prostatectomy. Surgeon did a section in theatre. Report in file says that it was negative for cancer but showed all signs of being cancerous & therefore sent gland to path lab for thorough histology & path lab report to be sent to prison. This report apparently not on file. Was path lab work done? Was it reported? Was report sent to the prison? Did prison Dr press path lab for report? … for histology to be done? Did surgeon or specialist see the histology & surgeon’s reports? In January of 1975 it was established that prostate was the site of primary cancer, ie it was missed in July possibly through histology not being done, or done and not reported. Ie 6 months of delay in treating for cancer of prostate. ,,,
Early Sept 74 saw Dr Brand – pain in hip acute. AF not examined. Pills to relieve arthritic pain. … relief – but did aggravate ulcer. Then given physiotherapy. After +/- 2 weeks physio says treatment not helping. Refers him to Dr and suggests need for X ray and orthopod. (This to DTG) don’t know what was in his report. But AF not called to see Dr and nothing done. During this period AF asked for a crutch. None available it was said. We found AF a broom of right length to use as crutch. Then, only then, were proper crutches obtained. AF not sent for X rays. During Oct Dr Groenewald was in attendance. Sends AF for X rays. No follow up for 2-3 weeks (I’d say). 5 or 6 days before fall orthopod sees AF at prison at a very rushed consultation. Orders Xrays to be taken (ie not given plates until AF tells him they’re available. Had made a tape recording of diagnosis before seeing X ray plates. Don’t know if he’d read through file or not.
Tues 5 Nov 74 AF sees Dr groenewald to hear specialists opinion. Warned of danger of falling – neck of fmur very fragile. Talk of replacing head of femur.
Wed 6 Nov AF falls while struggling into shower on crutches.
7 Nov AF asked orderly to get Dr because feared fracturer. Orderly says imposs to get DR and in his opinion not fractured.
9 Nov Dr Brand says no fracture. Great pain Tues 12 & Wed 13 (Thur)
Fri 15 Nov AF sees Dr Brand → X Rays & done immediately. Radiographer says fracture and sends AF back in wheel chair.
Sat 16 Nov Specialiast says fracture and will try to get hosp. bed.
Tues 19 Nov AF to HF Verwoerd Hosp … ….
Wed 4 Dec AF brought back, We find him alone in wheelchair in diningroom at 1 pm. AF confused and unable to speak. By midafternoon high temp. Unable to help himself. DTG proposes to CO that he spends the night AF in cell. This agreed after heavy argument. (At first said I could put him to bed only) … all night. Not able to turn him. DG had to pick him up to put him on toilet. Great pain. Not seen by a Dr.
Thur 5 Dec Temp lower in morning. Unable to do simplest things. Still not able to speak. DTG again in cell that night. Wakes up to find AF struggling to lavatory. AF falls and DTG catches him (literally) in mid-air. Not seen by DR though DTG asked CO to get DR.
Fri 6 Dec =/- 10AM, AF to hospital
Heard that cancer of hip found when femur was pinned. Cobalt therapy started.
Acute and constant pain in hip started early in September. (Had arthritic pain there for years, but never so acute or constant). But no X rays taken until well into October, and then not followed up for some weeks after physiotherapist had urged referral to surgeon. Why was this not done at once why were X rays not taken immediately?
Point here is the unnecessary delays which may have been fatal. Esp., as lack of care & increasing debility led to fall & fracture of cancerous femur (& presumably spread of secondaries) Further, it is known that cancer of prostate typically produces bone cancer(s) as secondaries. The extreme weakening of neck of femur in a relatively young man – on 5 Nov could (?should) have alerted GPs (Brand/Groenewald) specialists, radiographers to possibility of bone cancer & link with prostate cancer, especially IF they had been aware of |July report from surgeon & path/histology report if it was done/exists. Werte the prison Drs (Brand/Groenewald) aware of the July report(s)? Was specialist told? Did specialist see X rays of fracture? Why was possibility of bone cancer missed – even before fracture? It is known that hormone treatment of prostate cancer can induce remission of bone cancer secondaries. But prostate cancer not established until January ‘75, instead of |July ‘74.
Had Xrays been taken early in Sept & cancer been recognized cobalt radiation could have been started 2 ½ months sooner than end of Nov. And if X rays followed up at once in mid Oct, 1 ½ months could have been gained.
Must ask if cancer was known in July and the knowledge concealed? A fantastic thought, but the question must be asked.
From the diary can be seen : the inadequate availability of the Dr when a prisoner needs & requests to see him (Thurs 7 Nov) [This is general and not only in case of AF]
Unwillingness of orderlies to call out Dr (Fri 8 Nov)
a) it took 13 days for AF to be admitted to hospital after he fractured femur
b) b) it took 9 days to diagnose fracture
c) It took 4 days after diagnosis to get AF a bed &/or for administrative detail to be fixed
d) When brought back from hospital on 4 Dec AF was in no condition to be removed from hosp. I’m confident that the Drs in charge of the case would not willingly have agreed to him being moved back to prison from hosp. I suggest they were subjected to great admin pressure. (I know they wanted to keep him in hospital, but can only suggest this was so].
e) 4,5,6 Dec. NO doctor even looked in to check the condition of a very sick man.
DTG very willingly spent +/- 48 hours continuously with AF to tend his needs. But he is not a trained nurse & this was an inadequate way of looking after him.
Hell! Bram was so emaciated that DTG could pick him up & put him on lav or back into bed. Shaved him. It was a joy to be able to do what was needed; terribly sad that it was needed. That’s when I did my crying – in December when I realised he had cancer - & he’d soon be gone.
The finality – yes, terrible to bear in this place. BUT, confidence in the future & the CERTAINTY that one day (& not too many years hence) we’ll be out of prison leaves no rom for brooding. We SHALL BE FREE!