Albie Sachs, an anti-apartheid activist appointed by President Nelson Mandela in 1994 as a judge on South Africa’s first Constitutional Court, will discuss his work and that of the anti-apartheid movement on Sunday, April 13th at 3:30 p.m. at Kerem Shalom synagogue, 659 Elm Street, in Concord. Sachs’ presentation, entitled “Finding Soft Vengeance in a Violent World: Walking the Path of Peace with Nelson Mandela,” is free of charge and open to the public.
Born in Johannesburg, Sachs’ lifetime pursuit has been abolishing South Africa’s segregationist policies and in their place creating a free and just society. In 1994, then-President Mandela named him as a judge to the country’s first Constitutional Court, capping his work in the ANC to help establish South Africa as a democracy and draft its constitution. During nearly 15 years on the bench, Sachs advanced South Africa’s legal recognition of human rights, legalizing same-sex marriage, striking down the death penalty and overturning laws that criminalized homosexuality, among other precedents. Beyond issuing legal decrees, he played a role in designing the courthouse, helping to make the building itself a symbol of equality.
Early in his legal career, Sachs represented defendants who were charged under South African laws shaped by apartheid. In 1963, he was arrested twice under a law that allowed the government to detain political prisoners and was placed in solitary confinement. The experience became the basis of his memoir, “The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs,” which was eventually adapted as Royal Shakespeare Company play and British Broadcasting Company film.
In 1966, Sachs went into exile but stayed connected to South African politics. For 11 years, he taught and studied law in England and later worked as a law professor and legal researcher in Mozambique. While in that country’s capital in 1988, he lost an arm and was partially blinded by a bomb planted in his car by South African security forces. His 1991 book, “Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter,” tells the story of his recovery.
Since his retirement from the court in 2009, Sachs has traveled the world to share his insights about South Africa and to help heal divided societies. He holds a bachelor of arts and a law degree from the University of Cape Town, a doctoral law degree from the University of Sussex and more than a dozen honorary doctorates from universities from around the world.