ICT Against Apartheid

One of the people who played a key role in establishing Computer Aid had previously spent 22 years in jail for treason.

Denis Goldberg was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, and amongst his other duties he organised the supply logistics for the ANC camps in Zambia, Zimbabwe and other ‘Frontline States’.

After his capture driving a VW camper van full of ‘supplies’ he was put on trial as a co-defendant alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Treason Trial and was sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment for his crime. Denis was proud to be guilty of Treason; he was guilty of attempting to bring down the illegitimate government of South Africa and its racist apartheid system.
Umkunto we Siswe
Nelson Mandela (top left) and Denis Goldberg (bottom right)

In 1985 after 22 years in apartheid prisons Denis was released and was exiled to London from where he energetically rejoined the struggle to end apartheid from the European office of the ANC, which is where we first met him.

At this time the ANC was still a banned organisation in South Africa and was labelled a ‘terrorist’ organisation by the UK government. ”The ANC”, said Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1987, “is a typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”.

So it was in cloud-cuckoo land that we first began working with Denis.

We were naive young anti-apartheid activists with punk rock haircuts and scruffy jeans; Denis was a time-served veteran directing activities in his shirt-sleeves at the ANC’s European HQ in the Angel Islington.

My partner Sonia was working for a co-operative that produced the Anti-apartheid movement’s T-shirts and other propaganda materials. I was running a solidarity organisation that built early email systems to link ANC activists internationally (1989). We helped computerise the South African trade union structures of COSATU (1990) and ran a three-year leadership (& ICT) training programme for township activists (1991).

More than a decade before the term ICT4D was coined, it was this experience in the practical application of ICT to social action and social development that led to us collaborating with Denis and the ANC.

In 1992 Apartheid crumbled and was replaced by the first democratically elected government in South Africa’s history. Denis did not relax now that the apartheid system was defeated; instead he redoubled his efforts – re-focused on the new priorities of the national reconstruction and development program (RDP). As a part of this effort he set up Community HEART to ship donated health and education equipment to rebuild the ’historically black’ hospitals, schools and universities of South Africa.

As Community HEART was already shipping containers of hospital beds, books and other equipment we offered to provide the PCs that were being requested by South Africa’s doctors and teaching professionals.

We asked Denis to sit on the founding Board of Computer Aid International and with funding from the National Lottery we were able to provide thousands of professionally refurbished PCs to disadvantaged hospitals, schools and colleges serving the townships of South Africa between 1998 and 2000.

The greatest thing about working for Computer Aid has been the opportunity to work with truly inspirational people like Denis, people driven not by career aspirations, but by an unshakeable belief and dedication to realising a social goal. Denis fought for a free and democratic South Africa and having seen it realised set out to deliver to ordinary South Africans the tools essential to defining and delivering their own social and economic development. We were priviledged to be able to assist improving the quality of healthcare and education to communities systematically disadvantaged for generations.

I have since had the good fortune to be inspired by many other unique and creative individuals applying ICT for Development in an astonishing variety of ways; as this new decade begins I look forward to meeting and learning from more social entrepreneurs guided by a sense of real purpose and full of such enthusiasm.

Professor Denis Goldberg is now a special advisor to the government in Pretoria. Communiy HEART has delivered over a million books to educational institutions in South Africa. Denis remains Computer Aid’s Honary Patron and Ambassador.


Rivonia Treason Trial  http://bit.ly/4BIG3A

Denis Goldberg entry Wikipedia  http://bit.ly/8LPCr2

Denis Goldberg – Google Photo Search http://bit.ly/4ydeF8

Speech to the UN Special Committee on Apartheid http://bit.ly/4KkrvC

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