Critical Conversation with Albie Sachs On turning six, during World War II, Albie Sachs received a card from his father expressing the wish that he would grow up to be soldier in the fight for liberation. He did.
Albie Sachs has for forty years symbolized conscience and courage in his nation's human-rights struggle. As a civil-rights attorney, international-law professor, and member of the African National Congress, Sachs fought against the injustice of apartheid and helped draft South Africa's post-apartheid Constitution.
Judge Sachs, a man of remarkable spirit and optimism, deeply embedded in the national project of democracy and healing, will reflect on new social justice movements and strategies in the contemporary moment in South Africa. In the two decades since South Africa emerged from apartheid, how have communities advocated for rights-basic services, protections and freedom of expression? What lessons can we draw upon, as we imagine new directions for local social justice struggles?
Sachs has authored numerous books on human rights, including his memoir The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, Liberating the Law, Liberating the People, Sexism and the Law, Island in Chains, Jail Diary of Albie Sachs.
Born into a South African Jewish family of Lithuanian background, his career in human rights activism started at the age of 17, when as a second-year law student at the University of Cape Town, he took part in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Three years later, in 1955, he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted. He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Town Bar at the age of 21, where he defended people charged under racial statutes and security laws under South African Apartheid. After being arrested and placed in solitary confinement for his work in the freedom movement, Albie Sachs went into exile in England and then Mozambique.
In 1988, in Maputo, Mozambique, he lost an arm and his sight in one eye when a bomb was placed in his car by South African security agents. After the bombing, he devoted himself to the preparations for a new democratic constitution for South Africa. He returned to South Africa and served as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the African National Congress and member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the African National Congress and was instrumental in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Appointed by Nelson Mandela in 1994 to the new Constitutional Court of South Africa, Justice Sachs gained international attention in 2005 as the author of the Court's holding in the case of Minister of Home Affairs v. Fourie, in which the Court overthrew South Africa's statute defining marriage to be between one man and one woman as a violation of the Constitution's general mandate for equal protection for all and its specific mandate against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In addition to Sachs’ work on the Constitutional Court, he has travelled to many countries sharing South African experience in healing divided societies. He has also been engaged in art and architecture, and played an active role in the development of the Constitutional Court building and its art collection on the site of the Old Fort Prison in Johannesburg.