2020-University saddened by Dr Goldberg's passing

University saddened by passing of Dr Denis Goldberg

Thu, 30 Apr 2020 15:50:00 BST
Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies with Dr Goldberg in 2013.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies with Dr Goldberg in 2013.

The University is deeply saddened to hear that Dr Denis Goldberg, a renowned anti-apartheid veteran and honorary graduate of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), has died. His family and the Denis Goldberg Legacy Foundation Trust said he passed away just before midnight on Wednesday. 

Denis was a South African human rights activist sentenced to four life terms of imprisonment following the famous Rivonia Trial during the anti-apartheid struggle. He was the youngest and only white member of those on trial and was sentenced alongside seven other senior ANC leaders including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. He served 22 years in prison before his release in 1985.

In 1997, Professor Goldberg was awarded an honorary degree by GCU 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.

Denis last visited our campus in 2013 on his 80thbirthday, when he was a guest of the City of Glasgow as part of the Nelson Mandela Day celebrations. I spent a good deal of time with Denis that day, joined him in lots of laughter, received some of his famous hugs and, just before he left, he insisted I accept his South Africa scarf as a symbol of our friendship.

He loved our University’s mission for the common good and he talked to me about how he liked the idea of a university that is involved in society and not just an ivory tower.   He was extremely supportive of our work with Transnet Freight, in partnership with the University of Johannesburg and the Institution of Railway Operators where we deliver distance learning programmes to Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) staff.  

Before leaving that day, he left a message to the University and our students which is as relevant today as it was then. 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.”

Denis was steadfast in his commitment to changing the lives of South Africans and he devoted his life to campaigning for change. I admired him greatly and his precious scarf will forever be one of my most treasured possessions. He was a true hero who loved life and lived joyfully with a passion for social justice. We are proud to call him an honorary graduate of our University. Our thoughts are with his family. He will be sorely missed. 

Professor Pamela Gillies CBE, FRSE

Principal & Vice-Chancellor