Justice: Constitutional Court of South Africa 1994-2009
“I fainted back into unconsciousness but with a sense of joy. I had survived.”
Born into a Jewish, trade unionist family, Albie Sachs was first arrested aged just 17 when he took part in a sit-in against apartheid. He became a lawyer and fought for many black clients, fighting not just for their rights but because of the death penalty in South Africa, sometimes their lives as well.
When Sachs’s political views lead to his inevitable arrest, he was imprisoned and placed into solitary confinement. On his release, he went into exile with his freedom fighting first wife. Even while exiled in Mozambique he was considered an enemy of the state and the security services targeted him with a car bomb. Sachs lost his arm and his eye in the explosion.
Sachs’s physical recovery mirrored his country’s rehabilitation and is captured in his memoir, ‘The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter’. This book helped his second wife fall in love with him, she later said. On his return to South Africa, Sachs played a key role in drafting its democratic constitution and in 1994 Nelson Mandela appointed him as a judge in the new constitutional court. In one of his many rulings, he recognized gay marriage.