Cape Town - Fellow Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg has urged South Africans to think of the ailing liberation leader, Nelson Mandela, for his strengths, not any physical weaknesses brought on by old age.
“Getting old is not for weaklings,” he said on Wednesday during an exclusive interview at his home in Hout Bay.
Speaking exactly 49 years to the day that he, along with Mandela and other Rivonia treason trialists, faced the death sentence but were sentenced to life in prison, Goldberg also appealed to “all South Africans” to follow Mandela’s lead by actively trying to transform the country, and to embrace ubuntu - a spirit of togetherness.
Goldberg, who last saw Mandela for lunch a year or so ago, said: “I would like us to leave our great friend and great leader in peace at this time. We exploit him so.”
Recent attempts to intrude on Mandela’s privacy during his illness were “such a contrast to the selflessness of his life”, he said.
“I want him remembered for his greatness, his charm, his Mandela shuffle, his smile, his collective leadership. That is how I want to remember Mandela.”
It would be “dishonouring” Mandela’s leadership to see him as a man who “singlehandedly brought freedom to the country”.
“Mandela is a leader who has been able to mobilise, to inspire collective action.”
South Africans should “celebrate our good fortune in having leaders like the generation of which Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest... and that we have the possibility of really building our new democracy.”
The erosion of a common identity today troubled him. “We praise Mandela for his sacrifice, but yet we are not prepared to sacrifice ourselves. I am appalled that people do not respect and enhance the freedom of others,” he said.
He is saddened that there are still “historically privileged South Africans who believe in their superiority, despite their own amorality”.
He also called on South Africans to be patient, for people “to get their trotters out of the feeding trough, and not expect change overnight. Sadly, transformation takes time”.
Goldberg - who is 80 yet, as the youngest of the Rivonia trialists, is referred to by Mandela as “boy” and by other Rivonia trialists as the “baby” - said “of course” he would be sad when Mandela dies.
He treasures the eight months he spent with Mandela during the treason trial in the 1960s, though they were only in the same room during court proceedings and legal consultations, and were separated in racially segregated prisons.
All of the ANC leaders, including Goldberg, were prepared to die for their decision to take up the armed struggle to end apartheid.
The judge spared them the noose and sentenced them to life in jail.
Recalling the day of sentencing, 49 years ago on June 12, 1964, Goldberg said: “Imagine if Mandela and the rest of the leadership had been hanged that day, what a loss that would be, not just because they were a bunch of committed human beings, but also because of the way South Africa has turned out. How fortunate are we? How different it could have been.”
For instance, he said it was the calibre of these leaders that had helped ensure that there was not a bloodbath of retaliation by South Africans who had endured years of injustice.
“(During the Rivonia trial) these leaders believed in equal rights... dignity and respect for all. This was deeply ingrained, and the basis of Mandela’s powerful speech in the dock (before sentencing). I wish you could have been there for that.”
* An ANC member, Goldberg has been nominated on to the ethics commission. He is also involved in charities.