Human Rights Activist returns to Glasgow Caledonian University

11 October 2013

Professor Denis Goldberg with GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies

Professor Denis Goldberg with GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies

A South African human rights activist sentenced to life imprisonment during the anti-apartheid struggle has returned to Glasgow Caledonian University as part of a visit to the city to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day.

Professor Denis Goldberg, an honorary graduate of GCU, served 22 years in prison before his release in 1985. He was sentenced in 1964 at the end of the famous Rivonia Trial to four terms of life imprisonment. The youngest and only white member of those on trial, Professor Goldberg was imprisoned alongside seven other senior ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki.

In 1997, Professor Goldberg was awarded an honorary degree in recognition of his lifelong opposition to apartheid and his work to build relations between GCU and universities in South Africa. He joined fellow GCU honorary graduates Nelson Mandela and Govan Mbeki. He was also appointed to the role of visiting professor.

Professor Goldberg, who earlier this year celebrated his 80th birthday, continues to remain committed to improving the lives of South Africans by campaigning for change and is currently in Scotland as a guest of the City of Glasgow.

Professor Goldberg was invited to visit GCU where he met with Principal and Vice-Chancellor Pamela Gillies.

Part of their discussion focused on GCU’s commitment to the common good and the work with South Africa’s largest freight rail organisation, Transnet Freight, in partnership with the University of Johannesburg and the Institution of Railway Operators. The initiative aims to deliver distance learning programmes to more than 150 Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) staff, training employees who will gain a BSc in Railway Operations Management by Learning Contract. 

Professor Goldberg said: “I like the idea of a university that says it is involved in society and is not an ivory tower. Knowledge is about people, not just about knowledge, and if this has an impact, even better.”

Professor Goldberg, himself a trained civil engineer and a previous advisor to the Minister of Water in South Africa, was also keen to meet members of staff from the School of Engineering and Built Environment. Senior research fellow Dr Paul Teedon and civil engineer Professor JiaQian Jiang discussed the ongoing work of the School, including the noPILLS project which encompasses the impact of pharmaceutical residues in waste water.

Professor Goldberg also described the challenges that continue to face South Africa and its infrastructure, and the need for stronger policy enforcement.

He said:  “I live in a country which reflects the whole world: first world standards in some areas with professional people who match people all over the world. We have an inheritance of highly paid technicians and managers, and masses of low paid workers who are described as unskilled, but they are skilled. The attitude of politicians and economists is that we cannot change this as the economy will suffer.”

Before leaving the university to visit schools and the Scottish Parliament, Professor Goldberg delivered his message to the university and its students. He said:  “My message is that knowledge is important, that knowledge is a guide to action in the service of people as a whole, not elite groups. It is not enough to understand our society, we have to change it and make it better which means being more equal, unlimited access to human rights, not at the expense of others, but equally as human beings – that is my vision.”