Albie Sachs

From Wikispooks
Jump to: navigation, search
Person.png Albie Sachs  Rdf-icon.png
Albie Sachs.jpg
Born 1935-01-30
Nationality South African
Retired South African Judge and anti-apartheid campaigner

Employment.png Justice of the Constitutional Court

In office
November 1994 - October 2009

Albert "Albie" Louis Sachs (born 30 January 1935)[1] is a South African anti-apartheid campaigner who was targeted by the State Security Council and badly injured in a car bomb attack carried out by the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) in April 1988. Albie Sachs lost his right arm and was blinded in his left eye while in a car borrowed from ANC activist Indres Naidoo who was thought to have been the CCB's intended target.[2][3] Ever since, he says, life has been like a fable:

"Until then I was just another one of thousands of people in exile who had been in the struggle. The bomb for me introduced the element of madness you find in fable. To wake up without an arm but to feel joyously alive, to learn to do everything – to sit up, to stand, to walk, to run, to write again. Every little detail became a moment of discovery and breakthrough. I had an absolute conviction that as I got better, my country got better."

He gave his account of the assassination attempt, and his recovery, in a memoir entitled "The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter". When Sachs wrote the memoir about his rehabilitation, he was a lawyer in exile and it was far from certain that apartheid would be replaced by stable democracy. After the publication in 1990, the fable of South Africa and Sachs unfolded in unexpected directions and now, aged 76, Sachs has added several post-scripts to his story. After recuperating in London, he returned to South Africa and played a key role in drafting its democratic constitution. Nelson Mandela made him a Judge in the new Constitutional Court, where Sachs made a number of landmark rulings, including recognising gay marriage. If the car bomb precipitated a kind of rebirth for Sachs, he has also been granted a second go at fatherhood:

"That sense of one fabulous episode after another has continued and then finally, as in all good fables, the guy gets the bride," he says, speaking easily in the immaculately modulated tones of a – recently retired – judge. After meeting his second wife, Vanessa, they had a son, Oliver. "He's been a total delight. So I now have a son of 41, a son of 40 and one of four."[4]

Early life

Albie Sachs was born in Johannesburg into a South African Jewish family of Lithuanian background. He attended the South African College School (SACS) in Cape Town. His career in human rights activism started in 1952, when as a 17-year-old second year law student at the University of Cape Town, he took part in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Three years later, he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted. He began his practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar when he was 21, and most of his work involved defending people charged under apartheid's racist statutes and repressive security laws. Many of the people he defended were facing the death sentence. As a result of his work, he was raided by the security police, subjected to banning orders restricting his movement and was placed in solitary confinement for 168 days without trial. He eventually went into exile in 1966.[5]


Albie Sachs spent eleven years in England studying for a PhD from Sussex University and teaching law, and a further eleven years in Mozambique working as a law professor and legal researcher. On 7 April 1988, a bomb that was placed in his car in Maputo by South African CCB security agents, blew up. He lost an arm and the sight of one eye.

In exile during the 1980’s, Sachs worked closely with Oliver Tambo, the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), and helped draft the ANC's Code of Conduct and statutes. After recovering from the effects of the bomb blast, he devoted himself full-time to preparations for a new democratic Constitution for South Africa. Finally, in 1990, he returned home. [6]

Justice Sachs

As a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC, Albie Sachs played an active role in the negotiations which led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy. After the first democratic election in 1994, he was appointed by then President Nelson Mandela to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court.

As a Constitutional Court Judge, Justice Sachs was the chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996. As one of 11 green-robed Judges, he participated in landmark rulings. These rulings included declaring capital punishment a violation of the right to life, to making it unconstitutional to prevent gay and lesbian people from marrying. The court also backed Aids campaigners in 2002, by insisting that the government had a duty to provide HIV-positive pregnant women with drugs to reduce the risk of transmission to their newborn babies.

Awards and writings

In 1991 Albie Sachs won the Alan Paton Award for his book Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. The book chronicles his response to the 1988 car bombing. A revised, updated and expanded edition was released in October 2011. He is also the author of Justice in South Africa (1974), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1966), Sexism and the Law (1979), and The Free Diary of Albie Sachs (2004). His most recent book, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (2009), also won the Alan Paton Award, making him the second person to have won it twice.[7] The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs was dramatised for the Royal Shakespeare Company by David Edgar, as well as for television and broadcast by the BBC in the late 1970s.[8]

Sachs helped select the art collection at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, the seat of the Constitutional Court.

In 2006 his alma mater the University of Cape Town awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Law.[9][10] On 8 July 2008 Sachs was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree by the University of Ulster in recognition of his contribution to human rights and justice globally.[11]

In 2009 Sachs received the Reconciliation Award as well as the Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award.

On 16 July 2010 Sachs was further awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of the University of York for his contribution to the construction of post-apartheid South Africa, in particular for his involvement in the creation of the Constitution.[12]

On 20 June 2012 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Dundee. In all, Sachs has 14 honorary degrees across four continents.[13]

On 21 June 2014 Sachs was awarded Taiwan's inaugural Tang Prize in the Rule of Law for his contributions to human rights and justice globally.[14]

In December 2014, Albie Sachs became a Visiting Professor of Law at Strathclyde University in Scotland.

Other Roles

Albie Sachs has also served as a member of the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board.[15]


  1. "Albie Sachs". Who's Who Southern Africa. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  2. "Warfare by other means. South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s." Galago (2001)
  3. "South African Judge Albie Sachs: 'Never become like them'"
  4. Patrick Barkham (7 October 2011). "Albie Sachs: 'I can't tell my son everything'". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  5. "File: Participants in the 1952 Defiance Campaign"
  6. "Justice Albie Sachs". Constitutional Court of South Africa. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  7. Emily Amos (26 July 2010). "More Coverage of the Sunday Times Literary Awards (Photos, Videos)". Books Live. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  8. "The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1981)". IMDb. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  9. "Honorary degrees awarded". University of Cape Town. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  10. "A celebration of the law" (PDF). Law Review. University of Cape Town. September 2007. p. 1. Retrieved 27 July 2014.

    Template-specific style sheet:

  11. "Ulster honours Distinguished South African Jurist Albie Sachs"
  12. "Tang Prize awarded to S African activist"
  13. "Sachs has 14 honorary degrees across four continents"
  14. "Sachs honoured for contribution to human rights"
  15. "Kenya Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board"

External links