Monday March 20, 2017

Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs on loving your enemy into defeat

Justice Albie Sachs delivered the 2016 Pluralism Lecture for the Global Centre for Pluralism in Toronto at the Aga Khan Museum.

Justice Albie Sachs delivered the 2016 Pluralism Lecture for the Global Centre for Pluralism in Toronto at the Aga Khan Museum. (Tom Sandler/Global Centre for Pluralism)

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

Longtime freedom fighter, activist, lawyer and judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court, Albie Sachs has lived many lives. Injured by a car bomb in Mozambique, he had every right to be bitter and angry, but he turned instead to "soft vengeance" -- loving your enemy into defeat, working to make a country that would be fair for everyone. In Canada to give the fifth annual Global Centre for Pluralism lecture, he talks to Paul Kennedy about his own remarkable life, and what he's learned about building a society. The programme includes excerpts from the lecture. **This episode orignally aired September 30, 2016.


"All revolutions are impossible until they happen. Then they become inevitable." -- Albie Sachs

One of the great liberation movements of the 20th century was in South Africa. For three hundred years, white settlers and their descendents controlled the region, leaving the black and all other non-white peoples with few civil rights and little freedom. By the mid 20th century that system of racial segregation was formalised in law as apartheid -- black people lost their citizenship, schools, buses, hospitals were segregated, and millions of non-whites were resettled into shantytowns.
The resistance against apartheid consumed the last half of the century, and the fight spread around the world. There was an international boycott and sanctions, and within South Africa itself thousands went to jail, were beaten, tortured, assassinated. The largest of the resistance groups was the African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela -- and it was not only black people, there were many whites, too, who fought for freedom. 
Albie Sachs was one of the architects of the new South Africa, and with the first free elections and the end of apartheid in 1994, he was appointed by Nelson Mandela to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court.

"We wanted a Constitution that was smiling to the people- but it mustn't be a sneer smile, or an insincere mask of a smile. The smile must come from inside, that people may believe in it, because it's authentic. And the smile contains tears, and sadness, and a knowledge of imperfection." -- Albie Sachs


Albie Sachs retired from the Constitutional Court in 2009 with a long record as a fighter for civil rights and equality. Most important, he found ways of moving the rigid and old-fashioned regulations known as "customary law" into the modern era.  Albie Sachs delivered the 2016 Pluralism Lecture for the Global Centre for Pluralism in Toronto at the Aga Khan Museum.

Reading List (books by Albie Sachs)

  • The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs published by Paladin, 1990
  • The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter published by University of California Press, 2014
  • The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law published by Oxford University Press, 2009