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White Political Prisoner Accepts Release In South Africa

February 28, 1985

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Dennis Goldberg, South Africa’s longest-serving white political prisoner, renounced violence as a means of fighting white-minority rule and was released Thursday, 23 years after his arrest.

Goldberg, a long-time member of the now-banned South African Communist Party, was arrested in 1962 and jailed for life two years later with Nelson Mandela and other black leaders of the African National Congress.

Goldberg left Johannesburg at midday and flew to Israel. After his arrival, he traveled to a kibbutz in northern Israel where his daughter and several of his friends live.

Mandela and other ANC leaders rejected President P.W. Botha’s offer Jan. 29 to long-term political prisoners of freedom in exchange for renouncing violence, and the friends reported Goldberg initially had done the same.

The government says four black prisoners jailed for life in 1963 accepted the offer and were freed. They have not been identified, but news reports say they are members of the Pan Africanist Congress, a smaller rival of the ANC.

Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee said earlier in the day that a fifth prisoner had accepted Botha’s offer. Coetsee did not identify the prisoner, but government-run radio later quoted sources as confirming it was Goldberg, and that he was the first ANC member to accept.

Goldberg’s friends gave this account:

After his initial refusal, an Israeli from the kibbutz where Goldberg’s daughter Hilary lives came to South Africa to meet him and try to persuade authorities to free him without conditions.

The government refused, the Israeli argued to Goldberg that remaining in prison was a ″meaningless and purposeless″ gesture, and Goldberg ultimately agreed.

Goldberg’s wife Esme, who lives in Britain, flew to Tel Aviv to meet him there.

The release culminated secret discussions lasting several days. Goldberg was taken shopping near the prison in Pretoria to buy clothes for the trip and was given a South African passport valid for six months. Authorities insisted that there be no press coverage of his release or departure.

The black political prisoners were held at Robben Island or Pollsmoor Prison outside Cape Town, but Goldberg was kept in isolation at Pretoria Prison, the friends reported. They said he was an engineer, had studied in prison and was in in good health.

Passengers who sat near him on the plane to Israel reported that Goldberg was in good spirits. When asked to fill out his South Sfrican address on a landing card, he thought for a moment then wrote ″Pretoria jail.″

Goldberg was among eight prisoners jailed for life after their arrest on charges of plotting sabotage to end white-minority rule. The African National Congress went underground a year after it was banned in 1960, and has conducted a campaign of sabotage from exile since.

Mandela remains the nation’s best-known political prisoner and is a symbol for black South Africans who oppose apartheid, the white-led government’s system of race segregation.

He said through his daughter, Zinzi, at a rally in the black township of Soweto earlier this month that he would not renounce violence until the government does the same, legalizes the ANC and agrees to negotiate with it. Other black ANC prisoners jailed in the same trial said through their families that they also rejected the offer for the same reason.

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