Albie Sachs

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Albert Sachs
Albie Sachs1.jpg
Justice of the Constitutional Court
In office
October 1994 – October 2009
Nominated byJudicial Service Commission
Appointed byNelson Mandela
Personal details
Albert Louis Sachs

(1935-01-30) 30 January 1935 (age 87)
NationalitySouth African
Stephanie Kemp
(m. 1966; div. 1980)
Vanessa September
(m. 2006)
  • Emile Solomon "Solly" Sachs
  • Rachel "Ray" (née Ginsberg) Sachs Edwards

Albert "Albie" Louis Sachs (born January 30, 1935) is a South African lawyer, activist, writer, and former judge appointed to the first Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela.

Sachs and his younger brother, Johnny, were raised in a modest beach-side home in Cape Town by their mother, Rachel "Ray" (née Ginsberg) Sachs (later Edwards), who was separated from their father, Emil Solomon "Solly" Sachs, General Secretary to the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa in Johannesburg.[1] Both of Sachs's parents had fled to South Africa at a very young age with their families to escape pogroms against Jews in Lithuania.[2]

On April 6, 1952, almost all white South Africans commemorated the tercentenary of the arrival of Dutch naval commander Jan van Riebeek to start what they regarded as the beginnings of "white civilization" at the bottom of the tip of the African continent. A large section of whites moreover celebrated the recent electoral victory of the National Party (South Africa) and the introduction of the word "Apartheid" into the English language. Sachs, then a second-year law student, was one of a handful of whites at a meeting in a working class area in Cape Town where about two hundred black supporters of the African National Congress, which had chosen that same day to launch the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign.[3] The group called for volunteers and Sachs inquired about joining the Defiance Campaign. When Sachs said that he wanted to join the campaign, he was told that it was a black campaign led by black people. As it turned out, however, six months later, Sachs led a group of young whites to sit on seats marked non-whites in the General Post Office, marking his initiation into political activity and anti-Apartheid struggle.[4] Sachs went on to attend the Congress of the People (1955) at Kliptown on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the black township of Soweto, where more than 2,000 delegates supporting the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter, which envisaged equal rights for all in a future South Africa that "belongs to all that live in it, black and white."[5]

A year later, at the age of twenty-one, he started his law practice as an Advocate at the Cape Town Bar. Much of his work involved defending people charged with breaking racist laws as well as draconian laws used to suppress opposition to Apartheid. Sachs himself became a victim of these laws: he was subjected to predawn raids by the security police, to banning orders that restricted his activities (for example, he was not allowed to meet with more than one person at any given time and was banned from publishing),[6] and was ultimately arrested and detained in solitary confinement under the 90-Day Detention law (formally the General Law Amendment Act, 1962).[7] He was released after ninety days, took in a brief moment of freedom, and was then promptly rearrested and held for another seventy-eight days. When he was finally released, he ran the eight kilometers from the center of Cape Town to the beach where he had grown up and jumped into the ocean.[8] Sachs's first book, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, which he wrote clandestinely in Cape Town, details his detention and was later dramatized by playwright David Edgar for the Royal Shakespeare Company and was televised by the BBC.[9]

In 1966 he was arrested again. He has described this detention as the worst moment of his life. He was subjected to a spell of sleep deprivation by a security team whose head had been trained in torture methods by the French Directorate-General for External Security in Algeria. He recalls collapsing to the floor, having water poured on him, and thick, heavy fingers lifting his eyes open.[10] Soon after he was released from jail in 1966, he filed his exit paperwork. Permission was granted on the condition that he never return to South Africa. He moved first to England, where he earned a doctorate from Sussex University. His thesis, entitled Justice in South Africa, was published in the United Kingdom and the United States, but was banned in South Africa, making it a criminal offense to possess a copy.[11]

In 1977 he moved to Mozambique and taught as a law professor, later becoming Director of Research in the Ministry of Justice (Mozambique). He frequently traveled to Lusaka to provide legal support for Oliver Tambo, president-in-exile of the ANC.[6] One of Sachs's tasks was to draft a Code of Conduct, which forbade the use of torture by the ANC of captured enemy agents.[12] Sachs also served as the scribe of the ANC's Constitution Committee, set up by Oliver Tambo to lay the foundations of a future constitution for South Africa.[13]

On April 7, 1988, Sachs's car in Maputo exploded when he opened his car door.[14] The car bombing killed one passer-by.[1] Sachs survived the assassination attempt, which was planned and planted by South African security agents. He lost his right arm and sight in his left eye. After Mozambican doctors had saved his life, he was flown to London to recover at The London Hospital. While there, he received a letter saying, "Don't worry, Comrade Albie, we will avenge you." This led Sachs to the conviction that what he wanted was not "an eye for an eye," but the achievement of freedom and democracy under the rule of law - this would be his "soft vengeance."[15] After his recovery, traveled to Dublin to begin the task of preparing a Bill of Rights for South Africa alongside Kader Asmal.[16]

In 1990, after Mandela's release, Sachs returned to South Africa, where he played a significant role in the country's transition to a constitutional democracy.[17] After South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, Sachs resigned from his position as a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, withdrew from all political activity, and allowed his name to go forward for a position on South Africa's newly established Constitutional Court.[18] Later that year, he was chosen by President Nelson Mandela from a list selected by the Judicial Service Commission to become a founding member of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In addition to his duties as a judge, Sachs and his colleague Justice Yvonne Mokgoro were instrumental in establishing an extensive art collection for the Court that reflects humanity and social interdependence in a newly democratic South Africa.[19] Sachs's influence was felt in the design and construction of the award-winning Court building in the heart of what had been the Old Fort Prison where both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela had been locked up.[20] Sachs's fifteen-year term for the Court came to an end in 2009. A number of his judgments dealing with fundamental freedoms and the rights of marginalized and disadvantaged people have become internationally known, both for their content and his distinctive style of writing. He has stayed active and in the public eye through writing and speaking to audiences throughout the world, sharing his experiences of transitional justice in South Africa as a contribution to healing divisions of post-conflict societies.[21]

Early life and education[edit]

Albie Sachs was born in Johannesburg at the Florence Nightingale Hospital in 1935 to Emil Solomon "Solly" Sachs and Rachel "Ray" (née Ginsberg) Sachs (later Edwards). Both his mother and father fled to South Africa as children with parents who were escaping persecution against Jews in Lithuania. Sachs has said that, at the time his grandparents left Lithuania, antisemitism was so violent and extreme that, "Every Easter, the Cossaks would ride into the villages and say, 'The Jews killed Christ, we're going to kill the Jews.' And my grandparents and others were fleeing into the forests and basements of buildings and such, and so they wanted to escape."[2]

Sachs has described himself as "a very secular person" who is very respectful of the beliefs of others. Sachs has said that as long as there is antisemitism in the world, he is proud to describe himself as a Jew. He has added that the Jews he identifies with the most are Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, and Sigmund Freud.[22][23]

His parents separated while he was still a child, and he moved with his mother and younger brother, Johnny, to Cape Town as a toddler. Both of his parents were politically active. His father, Solly, was a general secretary to the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa. His mother was a member of the South African Communist Party and worked as a typist for its general secretary Moses Kotane. Sachs has said that a white woman working for a black man seemed perfectly natural to him as a child.[1] He has expressed that Kotane's presence in his family's life, especially the way that Kotane was respected and admired by his mother, made it clear that racism was absurd, inhuman, unjust and plain wrong.[24]

Sachs's father also worked to instill the importance of political activism into Albie from a young age. His father sent him a card on his sixth birthday, during World War II, expressing the wish: "May you grow up to be a soldier in the fight for liberation."[25]

Sachs excelled in school from a young age. Owing to a shortage of schoolteachers in South Africa during World War II,[26] Sachs was moved forward two grades. He attended the South African College Schools for junior and high school, where he edited the school magazine. After matriculating at the age of fifteen, he studied for a law degree at the University of Cape Town, winning the prize for English during his first year of university study.[27] He was admitted to the Bar and began practicing law at the age of twenty-one. He has described that, at the time he became an advocate, laws were being used to oppress rather than protect people. During his nine and half years of practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar, he defended people being prosecuted under racist and oppressive laws.[27]

Time in exile[edit]


Sachs moved as a stateless person to London once his exit paperwork was granted to him. He was joined by Stephanie Kemp, a former client, who had been locked up in a cell in which Sachs had himself had been detained. They married and had two children and continued with anti-apartheid work. They were now able to work openly as members of the London branch of the ANC when the ranks became open to whites.[28] When he arrived in England, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs was published. After spending six months catching up on his reading, he wrote Stephanie on Trial, which dealt with Kemp's imprisonment and Sachs's second spell in detention.[29] With the aid of a stipend from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, he completed a PhD at Sussex University (1967-1970), being supervised by Colonel GIAD Draper and Professor Norman Cohn. His dissertation was published under the title Justice in South Africa by Heinemann (publisher) in the UK and University of California Press in the US, but was banned in South Africa, where anyone found with it in possession could go to jail.[30]

From 1970 until 1977 Sachs lectured in the law faculty at the University of Southampton. During this time, together with Joan Hoff Wilson, he wrote Sexism and the Law, the first book published on this theme. Sachs's portion of the book dealt with cases in Britain and former British colonies where from the 1860s to the 1920s the courts had consistently ruled that women could not vote, hold public office, practice as lawyers, or enter medical school because otherwise qualified they were not "persons."[31]

In the course of his anti-apartheid work, he traveled to many countries in Europe. However, the United States Department of State regarded people in the ANC, such as Sachs, to be "terrorists" and denied them visas to travel to the United States.[32] In 1974 the US changed its policies and Sachs was able to travel to the United States. He attended a portion of The Trial of the Chicago Seven at the invitation of the lawyers defending the Black Panthers to show support for the group and, more specifically, Bobby Seale. Sometime later, he met Huey P. Newton, a Black Panther leader, in Oakland, where they compared notes on being in solitary confinement.[33]


Sachs moved to a newly independent Mozambique in 1977 and studied and became fluent in Portuguese.[34] He worked as a law professor at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo and later as the Director of Research at the Ministry of Justice (Mozambique).[35] While in Mozambique, Oliver Tambo invited Sachs to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. During this visit Tambo asked Sachs to draft of Code of Conduct for the ANC that would highlight the democratic principles of the ANC and forbid the use of torture. This Code of Conduct was dispensed as widely as possible to ANC members in exile and the underground. The Code of Conduct was presented by Sachs and adopted as binding policy by the ANC at its Kabwe conference in 1985.[36]

Assassination attempt[edit]

On April 7, 1988, Sachs's car in Maputo exploded when he opened his car door.[14] The car bombing killed one passer-by.[1] Sachs survived the assassination attempt, which was executed by South African security agents. He lost his right arm and sight in his left eye. After Mozambican doctors had saved his life, he was flown to London to recover at the London Hospital.

London and New York[edit]

While recovering at the London Hospital, he received a letter saying, "Don't worry, Comrade Albie, we will avenge you."[1] Sachs's response to the assassination attempt would be to seek not revenge, but "soft vengeance." This "soft vengeance" would take the form getting freedom in a new non-racial and democratic South Africa based on human rights and the rule of law.[15]

With funding from the Swedish International Development Agency and the Ford Foundation, Sachs established and acted as the founding director for the South African Constitutional Studies Centre at the University of London. This was a first step in his "soft vengeance."[37] Sachs's second step was to fly to Dublin on the instructions of the Constitutional Committee of the ANC to begin to prepare a first draft of a Bill of Rights for South Africa alongside Kader Asmal.[38]

In early 1989, Sachs went to the United States to work with Professor Jack Greenberg at the Columbia School of Law and Professor Lou Hekin at the school's Center for International Public Affairs. While there, Sachs learned to use a computer and wrote The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter with his left hand. The book offers a sensitive reflection on how Sachs felt physically and psychologically while he healed. Sachs details the moments of failure and success as he learned how to re-balance his body; read with impaired vision; and write, cook, clean, and eat with his left (and less dominant) hand.[39] While at Columbia, Sachs attended the Law and Justice seminar in Aspen, Colorado, which was moderated by Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. At the last session Blackmum explained to the attendees how he had come to write his opinion in Roe v Wade. In the discussion that followed, Blackmun's physician explained that, as a Catholic, he was unshakably opposed to abortion but, nevertheless, he felt that his beliefs should not be imposed by the State on people who had different beliefs. This observation was to provide Sachs a vision of the relationship between the sacred and the secular that he would go on to use in his own judgments.[40][41]

Return to South Africa[edit]

Sachs returned to South Africa in 1990 after the unbanning of the ANC and other political organizations and the release of Nelson Mandela. He moved the South African Constitutional Studies Centre from the University of London to the University of the Western Cape, where he worked as Professor Extraordinary at the Community Law Centre under Professor Dullah Omar.[37] Sachs was also appointed as an Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town, where his inaugural lecture was entitled "Perfectibility and Corruptibility." He continued his work as a member of the Constitutional Committee of the ANC and in 1990 published Protecting Human Rights in South Africa. This included a highly controversial paper that Sachs had written in exile for a conference on culture organized by Barbara Masakela, Head of the ANC Department of Culture. Entitled "Preparing Ourselves for Freedom," it provoked a storm inside and outside of the ANC by proposing that the ANC should stop declaring that "culture is a weapon of struggle," by arguing that the sociopolitical impact of culture was far too rich, complex, and full of ambiguity and contradictions to be reduced to a weapon that simply fired in one direction.[42][43]

In 1991, when the ANC had its first conference on South African soil in more than thirty years, Sachs was one of four members of the Constitutional Committee to be elected to its National Executive Committee of the organization.[44] Collaborating with the Centre for Development Studies at UWC, Sachs helped to organize broadly based workshops with international participants on an electoral system for South Africa, whether to have a Constitutional Court, on rights to land, regional government, affirmative action, and for the inclusion of social and economic rights in a Bill of Rights.[45]

When negotiations for a new constitutional order started at Kempton Park, near Johannesburg, at Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in December 1992, Sachs was an influential member of the ANC’s team.[46] Sachs later served on Working Group Two, which dealt with the nature of the South African State and the process for constitution-making.[47] He continued to serve on the team when CODESA negotiations broke down, and later when they resumed under the title “Multi-Party Negotiation Process (MPNP).” The latter process led to the drafting of an interim Constitution, which provided for South Africa’s first democratic elections to create South Africa's first democratic Parliament. This Parliament was given the special task of serving as a Constitutional Assembly to draft the country’s final Constitution in conformity with 34 Principles agreed to in advance.[48] The interim Constitution also provided for the creation of an independent Constitutional Court, which would ensure that fundamental rights would be upheld during the Constitution-making period both to ensure and to certify that the text of the final text Constitution complied with the Principles agreed to in advance.[37] On the eve of the first democratic elections on April 27, 1994, in anticipation of becoming a candidate for the Constitutional Court, Sachs resigned from the National Executive of the ANC. A day after the elections he resigned from his ANC branch and since then has not belonged to or identified with any political formation.[49]

Sachs has been widely credited as the "chief architect" of the post-apartheid 1996 Constitution, a label that he firmly rejects, insisting that the Constitution was the product of large groups of people working over many years and culminating in the intense work of the Constitutional Assembly, of which he was not even a member.[50] He has said that, if one were to do a paternity test on South Africa's Constitution, that Oliver Tambo's DNA would show up.[51]

Constitutional Court and judicial career[edit]

Nomination and confirmation[edit]

Sachs's appointment to the Constitutional Court involved some initial controversy, primarily because of his remarks at his Judicial Service Commission (South Africa) interview. Here, Sachs was asked about his role in a report downplaying the ANC's indefinite detention and solitary confinement of Umkhonto we Sizwe commander Thami Zulu.[52] One commissioner told Sachs his answers were "appalling" and criticized him for "sell[ing] his soul" by signing onto the report.[52] One prominent lawyer later said that if Sachs's interview had been more widely publicized he "could not possibly have been on the Court".[53] Sachs felt the criticism was unfair given his central role in ending torture in ANC camps.[54]

Constitutional Court tenure[edit]

Sachs was appointed to serve on the first Constitutional Court of South Africa by Nelson Mandela in 1994.[55] He has described his time on the Court as, "joyous and exhilarating, but also exhausting, complicated and problematic."[56] His book, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, deals with a question that preoccupied him as a judge, namely the way in which his subjective life experiences had influenced his objective decision-making as a judge.[57] In the preface of Strange Alchemy Lord Harry Woolf, former Chief Justice of England, wrote that, "If I still had responsibility for the English judiciary, I would encourage every judge for whom I was responsible to read this book... [it would] improve their understanding of what the job really involves and what justice is about."[58]

Sachs wrote extensively during his tenure and played a key role in numerous landmark decisions.[34] His best-known decisions include Fourie, August, Laugh it Off, Volks, Christian Education, Port Elizabeth, and S v M (sections from judgments italicized):

Fourie case (Same-Sex Marriage)[edit]

Sachs showed his support for gay rights in South Africa well before his placement on the Court. He has recalled that in 1991 he attended a gay pride march and felt initial embarrassment, saying that he had wished for a poster saying "Straights for Gays" to clarify his identity. He was able to forget any feelings about any mistaken identity very quickly and has said, "I feel fantastic. I feel so proud of myself that I crossed over some barrier of awkwardness and embarrassment, and I’m marching with people who are claiming their rights.”[59]

Fourteen years after attending this march, Sachs wrote the Court's majority judgment in Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie, declaring South Africa's statute defining marriage to be between one man and one woman as unconstitutional for not including same-sex couples. Sachs stated that Parliament had a duty to amend the Marriage Act to bring it in line with the Constitution, and if Parliament failed to do so within one year, the Court would itself write into the marriage vow in Act the gender-neutral word "spouse."[60] Justice Kate O'Regan strongly criticized Sachs for referring the regulation of same-sex marriage to Parliament rather than providing immediate relief to same-sex couples.[61]

In the course of his judgment he wrote, "Equality means equal concern and respect across difference... at the very least it affirms that difference should not be the basis for exclusion, marginalization, and stigma. At best, it celebrates the vitality that difference brings to any society... The Constitution acknowledges the variability of human beings [genetic and socio-cultural], affirms the right to be different, and celebrates the diversity of the nation."[62]

August case (Prisoners' Right to Vote)[edit]

When the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) decided not to register prisoners to vote in General Elections, the issue before the Court was whether the prisoners were authors of their own misfortune, or were being denied a fundamental right. Writing for a unanimous Court, Sachs held that prisoners could not be deprived of the right to vote through an administrative decision, but only through an Act of Parliament that would be compatible with the Constitution. Sachs declared that: "The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power, it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South Africa nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity."[63][64]

Laugh it Off case (The Role of Laughter in a Democratic Society)[edit]

In this matter, the Court held that the parodied use of a trademark on a t-shirt should not be interdicted because the detriment to the owners intellectual property rights was small and far outweighed by free speech rights. In a separate concurring judgment Sachs wrote, "Does the law have a sense of humor?... A society that takes itself too seriously risks bottling up its tensions and treating every example of irreverence as a threat to its existence. Humor is one of the great solvents of democracy. It permits the ambiguities and contradictions of public life to be articulated in non-violent forms. It promotes diversity. It enables a multitude of discontents to be expressed in a myriad of spontaneous ways. It is an elixir of constitutional health."[65][66]

Volks case (The Rights of Cohabitants)[edit]

The question in this case was whether a law that provided for surviving spouses to receive maintenance from a deceased person's estate was unconstitutional on the grounds that it did not include unmarried cohabitants. The majority of the Court held that the discrimination was not unfair- if people chose not to marry they should bear the consequences. In a strongly worded dissent, Sachs wrote, "[S]hould a person who has shared her home and life with her deceased partner, borne and raised children with him, cared for him in health and in sickness, and dedicated her life to support the family they created together, be treated as a legal stranger to his estate, with no claim for subsistence because they were never married? Should marriage be the exclusive touchstone of a survivor’s legal entitlement as against the rights of legatees and heirs?"[67] Citing these words, the Constitutional Court decided in 2021 (Jane Bwanya v Master of the High Court, Cape Town) that the majority view in Volks was wrong, and that the Act concerned was unconstitutional to the extent that it excluded from its ambit cohabitants such as those described by Sachs.[68]

Christian Education case (Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Beliefs)[edit]

Sachs wrote a unanimous judgment for the Court in Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education. This case brought into question whether Parliament, by prohibiting corporal punishment in schools, had unconstitutionally limited the religious rights of parents of children in private schools who, in keeping with their religious convictions, had consented to what they termed the "corporal correction" of their children by teachers.

Sachs stated that, "The underlying problem in any open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom in which conscientious and religious freedom has to be regarded with appropriate seriousness, is how far such democracy can and must go in allowing m embers of religious communities to define for themselves which laws they will obey and which not. Such a society can cohere only if all its participants accept that certain basic norms and standards are binding. Accordingly, believers cannot claim an automatic right to be exempted by their beliefs from the laws of the land. At the same time, the state should, wherever reasonably possible, seek to avoid putting believers to extremely painful and intensely burdensome choices of either being true to their faith or else respectful of the law."[69]

Sachs ruled that corporal punishments infringed on the rights of children, specifying that Section 12 of the Constitution extends the right to freedom and security and to be "free from all forms of violence whether from public or private sources."[70]

Sachs ended the judgment with an oft-cited postscript written by Sachs that the dialogue of the case would have been enriched if the State had appointed a curator to represent the interests of the children, noting that many of the children involved were in their late teen and, "capable of articulate expression."[70]

Port Elizabeth case (Rights of the Homeless)[edit]

Writing for a unanimous Court, Sachs wrote that, "It is not only the dignity of the poor that is assailed when homeless people are driver from pillar to post in a desperate quest for a place where they and their families can rest their heads. Our society a whole is demeaned when state action intensifies rather than mitigate their marginalization.

Thus, the Constitution and the law expressly requires the court to infuse elements of grace and compassion into the formal structures of the law. It is called upon to balance competing interests in a principled way and promote the constitutional vision of a caring society based on good neighborliness and shared concern. The Constitution and [the law] confirm that we are not islands unto ourselves. The spirit of ubuntu, part of the deep cultural heritage of the majority of the population, suffuses the whole constitutional order. It combines individual rights with a communitarian philosophy. It is a unifying motif of the Bill of Rights, which is nothing if not a structured, institutionalized and operational declaration in our evolving new society of the need for human interdependence, respect and concern.''"[71]

S v M case (Rights of the Child Whose Mother Faces Imprisonment)[edit]

In S v M, Sachs was presented with a case wherein a woman faced jail time for repeated credit fraud, even while out on bail. When preparing a memo about whether the case should go into the Court docket, Sachs has said, "I remember drafting an extremely dismissive response. I said: 'This doesn't raise a constitutional question. She simply wants to avoid going to jail. She doesn't make out a case, and her prospects of success are zero.'"[72]

When conversing with his colleagues on the Court, however, Justice Kate O'Regan brought into question the applicant's three teenage children, noting that M was a single parent and lived in an area with high levels of gang activity, drug dealing, and violence. This led Sachs to take account of the interests of the children, and their rights to parental care. This case was enrolled, the social workers testified that M was the sole caregiver of the children, a member of the school governing board, and successfully operated two small businesses. With the support of the majority of his colleagues, Sachs's judgment opted for restorative rather than punitive justice, emphasizing that this was in the interests of the rights of the children.[72]

The judgment stated: "Every child has his or her own dignity. If a child is to be constitutionally imagined as an individual with a distinctive personality, and not merely as a miniature adult waiting to reach full size, he or she cannot be treated as a mere extension of his or her parents, umbilically destined to sink or swim with them. The unusually comprehensive and emancipatory character of section 28 [of the Constitution dealing with the Rights of the Child] presupposes that in our new dispensation the sins and traumas of fathers and mothers should not be visited on their children.

Individually and collectively all children have the right to express themselves as independent social beings, to have their own laughter as well as sorrow, to play, imagine and explore in their own way, to themselves get to understand their bodies, minds and emotions, and above all to learn as they grow how they should conduct themselves and make choices in the wide social and moral world of adulthood. And foundational to the enjoyment of the right to childhood is the promotion of the right as far as possible to live in a secure and nurturing environment free from violence, fear, want and avoidable trauma.''"[73]

End of term of office[edit]

After serving on the Court for fifteen years, Sachs retired in October 2009, alongside colleagues Pius Langa, Yvonne Mokgoro and Kate O'Regan.[74]

International activities[edit]

Sachs's experience as a top judge and internationally known human rights activist led to The Guardian describing him as "arguably the world's most famous judge."[72] He travels often and has given lectures throughout North and South America, Eastern and Western Europe, South and West Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and many countries across Africa. Sachs is frequently called upon to share his experiences in the struggle to achieve constitutional democracy, promote restorative justice in post-conflict societies, and advance gender awareness.

On many visits to Northern Ireland, Sachs has used the journey from Apartheid to a non-racial democracy to urge those impacted by The Troubles (or Northern Ireland conflict) to turn swords into plowshares, acknowledge wrongs committed, attempt to right them and find appropriate paths to justice, equality, and inclusion.[75] In April 1999, the National Democratic Institute organized for Sachs to visit Guyana. While there, he held a series of formal and informal meetings with political and civil society leaders on the topic of "Political Accommodation and Constitution-Making in South Africa." He drew on methods of conflict resolution used in South Africa.[76] Similarly, Sachs paid many visits to Sri Lanka during the period of the Tiger Tamil rebellion. He also engaged with a broad leadership delegation of Sri Lankans in South Africa, sharing South Africa's experience of transitional justice.[77] Sachs also journeyed on a number of occasions to Colombia, and spoke with government personnel in Bogota and with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels in Cuba, to contribute towards the Colombian Peace Process. The peace talks drew directly from Sachs's model of "soft vengeance" in an effort to focus on restorative justice over retributive justice. As was the case in South Africa, the transitional justice system in Colombia dealt with abuses by all parties that aggravated the conflict, not only FARC.[78]

Sachs has also internationally advocated for gender equality. At the invitation of Canadian Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, Sachs helped with encouraging Supreme Court judges in Sri Lanka and Nepal to approach their roles with greater gender sensitivity.[79]

He was appointed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's International Bioethics Committee to help with drafting the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights.[80] Sachs later spent fifteen months in Kenya as a commonwealth judge, serving on the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board deciding which judges were suitable for remaining in office and which had to be compelled to step down.[81] A great lover of sports in general and cricket in particular, he also served for a number of years as a member of the International Cricket Council’s Disciplinary Appeals Board.[80]

In 2021, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria hosted Mandela Day in Geneva, Switzerland. Sachs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, each spoke about their personal journeys and that of their home countries towards a human rights dispensation. Sachs also served as a judge for the 11th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition while in Geneva.[82]


The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs – 1966, Harvill Press[83]

Stephanie on Trial – 1968, Harvill Press[84]

Justice in South Africa – 1973, University of California Press[85]

Protecting Human Rights in a New South Africa - 1990, Cape Town, University of Oxford Press

"Watch Out – There's a Constitution About": Preparing Ourselves for a New Era of Constitutionalism – 1991, Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand[86]

Advancing Human Rights in South Africa - 1992, Cape Town, University of Oxford Press[87]

The Free Diary of Albie Sachs – 2004, Random House[88]

The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law – 2009, Oxford University Press[89]

The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter - 1990, Grafton Books; New Edition - 2000, 2014, University of California Press[90]

We The People: Insights of an Activist Judge – 2016, Wits University Press[91]

Oliver Tambo's Dream – 2017, African Lives[92]


Sexism and the Law: A Study of Male Beliefs and Legal Bias in Britain and the United States – 1978, Free Press (co-authored with Joan Hoff Wilson)[93]

Island in Chains: Prisoner 885/63: Ten Years on Robben Island – 1982, Penguin Press (co-authored with Indres Naidoo)[94]

Spring is Rebellious: Arguments about Cultural Freedom 1990, Karen Press (co-authored with Ingrid de Kok)[95]

Liberating the Law: Creating Popular Justice in Mozambique – 1990, Zed Books (co-authored with Gita Honwana Welch)[93]

Book awards and other artistic honors[edit]

Alan Paton Award for Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter[96]

Alan Paton Award for Strange Alchemy of Life and Law[96]

Sachs's first book, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, was dramatized by playwright David Edgar for the Royal Shakespeare Company and was televised by the BBC.[9]

Peabody Award for "Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa" documentary film by Abby Ginzberg

Presidential awards[edit]

Order of the Southern Cross, Brazil

Order of Luthuli in silver from South Africa

2006 - Medal of Freedom from Portugal

2010 - Lincoln Medal (presented by Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Ford's Theater in the presence of Barack Obama)[97][98]

2021 - French Legion of Honour[97]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Twenty seven universities have awarded Sachs honorary doctorate degrees:

Amherst College[99]

Columbia University[100]

Michigan State University[101]

NOVA University of Lisbon[102]

Mozambique's Polytechnic University (Universidade Politecnica)[103]

Princeton University[104]

Ulster University[105]

University of Aberdeen[106]

University of Antwerp[107]

University of Cambridge[108]

University of Cape Town[35]

University of Dundee[109]

University of Edinburgh[101]

University of the Free State[110]

University of London[111]

University of Missouri[112]

University of New South Wales[113]

University of Roehampton[114]

University of Southern California[115]

University of Southampton[107]

University of Strathclyde[116]

University of Sussex[12]

University of Witwatersrand[117]

University of York[118]

Wayne State University[119]

William Mitchell College of Law[120]

York University[121]

Other awards, honors, and accolades[edit]

Golden Plate Award, Academy of Achievement[7]

Honorary bencher Lincoln's Inn, London[122]

Martin Luther King Memorial Prize for Island in Chains (co-authored with Indres Naidoo)

Reconciliation Award for Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, 2009 [123]

Tang Prize for the Rule of Law, 2014 ("Rule by Law to Rule of Law" – acceptance speech)[124][125]

Ulysses Medal, University College Dublin, 2014[126]

In May 2022, the Clooney Foundation for Justice announced the inaugural recipients of "The Albie Awards," which will honor those devoted to highlight brave justice activism in a number of sectors across the globe. The awards will be held on 29 September at the New York Public Library. Other recipients at the “Albie:” will be Nobel Prize-winning Filipino journalist Maria Ressa who will receive the Justice for Journalists Award; iACT, a groundbreaking international organisation that works alongside survivors of genocide and other mass atrocities, will receive the Justice for Survivors Award; Viasna, a human rights group that has been a voice of resistance in Belarus for nearly 30 years as it has led a brave campaign for freedom and democracy against President Lukashenko’s regime, will receive the Justice for Democracy Defenders award; and Dr Josephine Kulea, the Kenyan women’s rights campaigner and founder of the Samburu Girls Foundation that helps to rescue girls from child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices, will be honoured with the Justice for Women Award.[127]

Sachs serves on the boards for the Constitutional Hill Trust,[128] The Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation,[129] and the Albie Sachs Trust for Constitutionalism and the Rule of Law (ASCAROL).[130]

In Laughing at the Gods: Great Judges and How They Made the Common law, (University of Cambridge Press), McGill University law professor and author Allan Hutchinson includes Sachs as one of eight of the greatest common law judges in history. In supporting his inclusion of Sachs, Hutchinson writes, "[Sachs's] life and career redefine what it means to be a lawyer and judge in a society that is grappling with the injustices of its past and ameliorating opportunities of its future... [H]is important legacy comprises the deeds that he accomplished, the struggles in which he fought, the judgments that he rendered, and the fluency that he attained in both legal and political langauges"[131] Also included are judges Lord Mansfield, John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., James Atkin, Tom Denning, Thurgood Marshall, and Bertha Wilson.

Personal life[edit]

In 1966 Sachs married Stephanie Kemp, a member of the African Resistance Movement, ANC and SACP, in London. They have two children: Alan (an artist) and Michael (a developmental economist).[132] Sachs and Kemp divorced in 1980. Kemp remained working in London as a physiotherapist, specializing in the treatment of children with cerebral palsy until 1990, when she returned to South Africa.[133] Sachs remarried in 2006 to urban architect Vanessa September in the Constitutional Court, the marriage officer being Chief Justice Pius Langa. They have one son, Oliver Lukho-u-Thando September Sachs.[134]


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  17. ^ Hutchinson, page 244-245.
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  19. ^ "The Constitutional Court Art Collection – Constitution Hill".
  20. ^ Kreisler, Harry. "Suffering, Survival, and Transformation: Conversation with Albie Sachs," Institute of International Studies, Regents of University of California: UC Berkeley, February 2, 1998
  21. ^ name="Kreisler, Harry. "Suffering, Survival, and Transformation: Conversation with Albie Sachs," Institute of International Studies, Regents of University of California: UC Berkeley, February 2, 1998
  22. ^ "10th LITVAK DAYS IN LONDON 2021".
  23. ^ "USAf | Universities South Africa | Page 9".
  24. ^ Justice in South Africa by Albie Sachs Director of South African Constitution Studies
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  26. ^ abrial, Amakievi. Secondary Educational Challenges in Africa during the Second World War: 1939-1945. European Educational Research Journal, April 2015.
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  28. ^ "ALBIE SACHS BIOGRAPHY". Christian Science Monitor. 15 March 1990.
  29. ^ Sachs, Albie. Stephanie on Trial. London: Harvill Press, 1968.
  30. ^ "Letter in support of Rowntree Charitable Trust, published in The Times". openDemocracy.
  31. ^ Sachs, Albie, and Joan Hoff Wilson. Sexism and the Law : a Study of Male Beliefs and Legal Bias in Britain and the United States. Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1978
  32. ^ name="ReferenceA">Cornell, Drucilla, Karin Van Marle, and Albie Sachs
  33. ^ "African Activist Archive".
  34. ^ a b Hutchinson, Allan C. Laughing at the Gods: Great Judges and How They Made the Common Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
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  36. ^ Tales of Terrorism and Torture: The Soft Vengeance of Justice by Albie Sachs in Confronting Torture
  37. ^ a b c "Sachs, Albert Louis (Albie) - the O'Malley Archives".
  38. ^ Sachs, Albie. We, the People: Insights of an Activist Judge. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2018, preface.
  39. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. Cape Town: David Philip, 1990.
  40. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
  41. ^ Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Fourie and Another; Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and Others v Minister
  42. ^ Sachs, Albie. “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom: Culture and the ANC Constitutional Guidelines.” TDR (1988-), vol. 35, no. 1, 1991, pp. 187–93, Accessed 25 Apr. 2022.
  43. ^ Sachs, Albie, Ingrid De Kok, and Karen. Press. Spring Is Rebellious : Arguments About Cultural Freedom. Cape Town: Buchu Books, 1990.
  44. ^ "Justice Albie Sachs".
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  46. ^ Sachs, Albie. Oliver Tambo’s Dream : Four Lectures by Albie Sachs. Cape Town: African lives, 2017
  47. ^ Corder, Hugh. “Towards a South African Constitution.” The Modern Law Review, vol. 57, no. 4, 1994, pp. 491–533, Accessed 25 Apr. 2022.
  48. ^ "The 34 Constitutional Principles". 7 May 2020.
  49. ^ "Albie Sachs, pillar of SA justice, isn't afraid of riots | eNCA".
  50. ^ "Judge Albert Louis "Albie" Sachs | South African History Online".
  51. ^ Sachs, Albie. Oliver Tambo’s Dream : Four Lectures by Albie Sachs. Cape Town: African lives, 2017.
  52. ^ a b "JSC interview: Albert Louis Sachs". Constitutional Court. 4 October 1994.
  53. ^ "Constitutional Court Oral History Project: Dennis Davis" (PDF). 6 January 2012.
  54. ^ "Constitutional Court Oral History Project: Albie Sachs" (PDF). 10 January 2012.
  55. ^ "Justice Albie Sachs". Constitutional Court of South Africa. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  56. ^ "Integrity core to the Court, says Sachs".
  57. ^ Sachs, Albie (15 May 2010). "Albie Sachs: 'The fact that South Africa is a country at all is one of the greatest stories of our time'". the Guardian.
  58. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011., page ix
  59. ^ "Albie Sachs on the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage Rights in South Africa | University of Chicago Law School".
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, page 257
  63. ^, para 17
  64. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, page 122
  65. ^, para 110
  66. ^ Sachs, Albie. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, page 130, 138-9
  67. ^, para 148
  68. ^
  69. ^, para 35
  70. ^ a b J, Sachs (8 April 2017). "Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education".
  71. ^, para 37
  72. ^ a b c "Jackie Kemp interviews South African judge Albie Sachs". 30 June 2009.
  73. ^, para 18-19
  74. ^ Alcock, Sello; Russouw, Mandy (29 May 2009). "Zuma's judges dilemma". Mail & Guardian.
  75. ^ "Sharing or Divisive history? - A reflection of Anger Atonement and Healing". 8 September 2020.
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  77. ^ "A Pahad to host Sri Lankan delegation, 23 Apr | South African Government".
  78. ^ "The 'soft vengeance' of peace in Colombia".
  79. ^
  80. ^ a b "Albert Louis Sachs (1935 - ) | the Presidency".
  81. ^ "Advanced Search Results".
  82. ^ "Centre for Human Rights hosts Mandela Day in Geneva".
  83. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 1969). Jail diary. Sphere Books. OCLC 932295926.
  84. ^ Sachs, Albie; Kemp, Stephanie (23 April 1968). Stephanie on trial. [On the trial and imprisonment of Stephanie Kemp. With a portrait. Harvill Press. OCLC 774486866.
  85. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 1973). Justice in South Africa. Sussex University Press. OCLC 251988847.
  86. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 1991). "Watch out--there's a constitution about": preparing ourselves for the era of constitutionalism. Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand. OCLC 65096692.
  87. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 1992). Advancing human rights in South Africa. Oxford University Press. OCLC 475068294.
  88. ^ The free diary of Albie Sachs. Random House. 23 April 2004. OCLC 749977140.
  89. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 2011). The strange alchemy of life and law. Oxford University Press. OCLC 743004460.
  90. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 July 2014). The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter: With a New Preface and Epilogue. ISBN 9780520283626 – via
  91. ^ Sachs, Albie (23 April 2018). We, the People: Insights of an activist judge. Wits University Press. ISBN 9781868149988.
  92. ^ Sachs, Albie; Sachs, Albie; Sachs, Albie; Sachs, Albie (23 April 2017). Oliver Tambo's dream: four lectures. OCLC 1027477803. {{cite book}}: Missing |author2= (help)
  93. ^ a b Sachs, Albie; Hoff, Joan (23 April 1979). Sexism and the law: a study of male beliefs and legal bias in Britain and the United States. Free Press. OCLC 918349196.
  94. ^ Island in chains: ten years on Robben Island. Penguin. 23 April 1982. ISBN 9780140060539.
  95. ^ Kok, Ingrid de; Sachs, Albie (23 April 1990). Spring is rebellious: arguments about cultural freedom. Buchu Books. OCLC 243739486.
  96. ^ a b "Alan Paton Readers' Choice Award".
  97. ^ a b "France honours former justice Albie Sachs with highest order of merit".
  98. ^ "Maverick Citizen: Tribute: Ruth Bader Ginsburg – an ally of the South African Constitution". 19 September 2020.
  99. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients Announced for UMass Amherst Commencement : UMass Amherst".
  100. ^ "Albie Sachs holds up his honorary degree while standing next to MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright" by Lauren Richey, May 18, 2019
  101. ^ a b "Mary McAleese, Justice Albie Sachs "Lord Gill" receiving an honorary degree from University of Edinburgh Stock Photo - Alamy".
  102. ^ "NOVA to grant Honoris Causa Doctorate to Judge Albie Sachs, human rights activist". 17 January 2018.
  103. ^
  104. ^ "Princeton awards five honorary degrees".
  105. ^ "Honorary graduates". 22 March 2022.
  106. ^ Anti-apartheid activist, astrophysicist and academics among newest members of University 'family' 26 June 2013
  107. ^ a b "Sachs, Albert Louis (Albie)"
  108. ^ "Selected Honorands". 22 February 2013.
  109. ^ "Honorary Degrees: Academic and Corporate Governance".
  110. ^ "Three ex-judges to receive honorary doctorates from Free State university". TimesLIVE.
  111. ^
  112. ^
  113. ^ Feneley, Rick (14 September 2010). "Judge preferred 'soft vengeance' to forgiveness". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  114. ^[self-published source]
  115. ^ "Past Recipients – Honorary Degrees".
  116. ^ "Nelson Mandela: Lawyer Albie Sachs says people are 'grieving already"
  117. ^ Albie Sachs awarded honorary doctorate".
  118. ^ "University gives Albie Sachs an Honorary Degree - Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York".
  119. ^ "Wayne Law Commencement honors 120". 23 July 2019.
  120. ^ "On tour with judge Albie Sachs | The Heritage Portal".
  121. ^ Sachs, Albert Louis (Albie)"
  122. ^[bare URL DOX/DOCX file]
  123. ^ "Reconciliation Award".
  124. ^ "Tang Prize | Laureates | Albie Sachs".
  125. ^ "Tang Prize | Media | The Simple Power of a Hug: Albie Sachs Moves Audience with his Story".
  126. ^[bare URL PDF]
  127. ^ "BRAVE ACTIVISM AWARD: Amal and George Clooney foundation honours Justice Albie Sachs for courageous work fighting for justice". 12 May 2022.
  128. ^ "About Us".
  129. ^ "Trustees - Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation".
  130. ^ "Tang Prize | Explore | Albie Sachs Trust for the Rule of Law and Constitutionalism".
  131. ^ Hutchinson, 238, 265
  132. ^ Barkham, Patrick (8 October 2011). "Albie Sachs: 'I can't tell my son everything'". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  133. ^ "Biography of Stephanie Kemp". South African History Online. 24 May 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  134. ^ Lind, Peter (9 December 2016). "Cape Town slave descendants share stories of strength". Aljazeera. Retrieved 9 December 2016.

External links[edit]