Albie Sachs – South Africa

Albie Sachs is a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He was appointed in 1994 by President Mandela in the wake of South Africa’s first democratic elections. He had been living in exile in Mozambique and had been targeted by South African agents for being an activist South African lawyer and a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC) at the time of the incident.

Albie Sachs – South Africa

Author of many books on human rights, Albie (Albert Louis) Sachs, obtained his BA and LL.B degrees at the University of Cape Town where he was arrested for taking part in Passive Resistance Campaigns. He started practicing as an Advocate at the Cape Town Bar in 1957 working mainly in the civil rights sphere until his detentions without trial by the Security Police.

In 1966 he went into exile in England where he completed a Ph.D at the University of Sussex and taught in the Law Faculty of the University of Southampton . He was the first Nuffield Fellow of Socio-Legal Studies, at Bedford College , London , and Wolfson College, Cambridge. In 1977 he accepted the position as Professor of Law at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, and from 1983 served as Director of Research in the Ministry of Justice until his attempted assassination by South African security agents in 1988, when he returned to England. Albie Sachs became the founding Director of the South Africa Constitution Studies Centre, which moved in 1992 to the University of the Western Cape where he was made Professor Extraordinary and appointed Honorary Professor in the Law Faculty at the University of Cape Town. As an active member of the Constitutional Committee of the ANC he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to the newly established Constitutional Court. Judge Sachs has written extensively on culture, gender rights and the environment. His book The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs was dramatised for the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC. Another autobiographical book (2000), The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter , which deals with his recovery from the car bomb – an incident which left him with the loss of his sight in one eye as well as his right arm – and with an eventual appointment to the Constitutional Court , is presently being dramatised for film. Times Educational Supplement wrote “Sachs has written a highly personal and sensually explicit odyssey concerning his own damaged body at the same time as writing a book imbued with apparently undaunted idealism concerning his damaged mother-country South Africa.” His new manuscript, due to be published in June 2004, provisionally titled The Free Diary of Albie Sachs, deals with how much, as a judge, he can reveal of his inner self.

His career in human rights activism started at the age of seventeen, 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 he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted. He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar aged 21. The bulk of his work involved defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws. Many faced the death sentence. He himself was raided by the security police, subjected to banning orders restricting his movement and eventually placed in solitary confinement without trial for two prolonged spells of detention.

In 1966 he went into exile. After spending eleven years studying and teaching law in England he worked for a further eleven years in Mozambique as law professor and legal researcher. In 1988 he was blown up by a bomb placed in his car in Maputo by South African security agents, losing an arm and the sight of an eye.

During the 1980s working closely with Oliver Tambo, leader of the ANC in exile, he helped draft the organisation’s Code of Conduct, as well as its statutes. After recovering from the bomb he devoted himself full-time to preparations for a new democratic Constitution for South Africa. In 1990 he returned home and as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the ANC took an active part in the negotiations which led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy. After the first democratic election in 1994 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court.

In addition to his work on the Court, he has travelled to many countries sharing South African experience in healing divided societies. He has also been engaged in the sphere of 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.


University of Kwazulu-Natal;

Albie Sachs;

Globetrotter Berkeley Interview;

another interview;

on tour with Albie Sachs;

SMU News;


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