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Judge Albie Sachs Visits Campus to Commemorate 20th Anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s Release from Jail

Former South African Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs, who overturned laws criminalizing homosexuality in his ruling on the case Minister of Home Affairs v. Fourie, visited campus last Saturday. In the case, Sachs ruled that the instated ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional and illegal. Temba Maqubela, Dean of Faculty and an active board member of South Africa Partners, a group for the rehabilitation of South Africa, helped to coordinate Sachs’ visit. “As this is the week when the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail, we thought there would be a good message for those who wanted to have a sense of what is quickly being forgotten— the ugly side of apartheid which was a blight on our humanity as the worst form of institutionalized racism since slavery,” Maqubela said. Sachs, who was an active member in the reformation of South Africa, was appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1994 by Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela and retired this past October. In addition to Minister of Home Affairs v. Fourie, Sachs spent his 15 years in the courts bringing South African human rights to legal recognition and abolishing the death penalty. The South African government was in opposition to Sachs’ work. In 1963, Sachs was seized by the police and placed in solitary confinement. Sachs’ time spent in jail affected him deeply. During his presentation, Sachs recalled that a guard would vigorously bang on a table for ten minutes and then the room would be silent for 50 minutes. The process repeated throughout the night, preventing him from sleeping and yielding him nearly unconscious after 24 hours. After being released from confinement, Sachs was allowed to leave South Africa, on the condition that he would never return. He moved first to England, then to Mozambique. On April 7, 1988, the South African Security Agents placed a bomb in Sachs’ car, causing him to lose an arm and sight in one eye. He later won the 1991 Alan Paton Award for his book, Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, which describes the incident. Prior to serving on the Constitutional Court, Sachs was appointed to the Constitutional Committee in 1990, and was assigned to develop a charter for the new state. Sachs’ experience in jail became an influence when drafting the charter. Sachs, among others who had undergone similar punishments, knew that they could not condone torture or capital punishment in their new government. On the African National Congress, Sachs advocated for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, an independent judiciary, the rights to housing, water, health care and a clean environment. In his presentation, Sachs repeatedly discussed the struggle between pacifism and revolution. He discussed how the hardest moment for the African National Congress was the decision to use violence to further the anti-apartheid movement. He explained how he still admired the “purity” of non-violence to further one’s goals. “I have studied the tripartite before and I could not believe that PA was bringing a man who was so influential in the restructuring of South Africa to campus,” said Kate Wiener ’11. “I believe that his message was to humanize the decisions and struggle of South Africans during that awful time,” Wiener continued. “In particular, I gained a sense of the struggle he went through to justify the decisions made by the African National Congress, especially the decision to abandon their course of non-violence,” said Wiener. “It is up to those who attended the talk as to what kind of message he brought. I think it was personal for each individual and reminded those in attendance of the extent of cruelty of humans to humans on one hand and the capacity of extraordinary human beings like Albie Sachs to forgive and thrive despite what happened to them on the other hand,” continued Maqubela. “Other than having Mr. Mandela himself, I could not imagine a more fitting manner to honor Nelson Mandela than bringing someone who lived and suffered for the same ideals as he did,” Maqubela said. In Mozambique on April 7, 1988, the South African Security Agents placed a bomb in Sachs’ car, causing him to lose an arm and sight in one eye. He later won the 1991 Alan Paton Award for his book, Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, which describes the incident.