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Albert Louis Sachs (1935 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Albert Louis Sachs (1935 - ) Awarded for:
Excellent and selfless dedication to human rights activism and the struggle against apartheid.

Profile of Albert Louis Sachs

Albert Louis Sachs was born into a politically active family in Johannesburg on 30 January 1935. His father, Solly, was a trade union leader, hence Albert's political awareness from an early age.

He matriculated at the South African College School in Cape Town in 1950. From his university days in the early 1950s, he was attracted and intrigued by the prospect of a society based on human rights and equality for all.

Sachs's human rights and anti-apartheid activism started when he participated in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign when he was a second-year Law student at the University of Cape Town in 1952. Three years later, he was already in the thick of the anti-apartheid struggle, attending the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955.

At the tender age of 22, Sachs was already performing the difficult task of practising as a civil rights lawyer and defending people charged under various security laws and statutes.

He put his legal profession at the service of the struggle, defending people faced with the death penalty, largely for fighting apartheid. He was also not spared the harassment, raids and banning orders by the notorious security police. He was detained twice without trial. Sachs described the finer details of his trial in the book entitled The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (published in 1969), which was dramatised for the Royal Shakespeare Company and broadcast by the BBC in London in 1979.

In 1966, 'Albie' as he is affectionately called, went into exile after constantly being raided by the security police and subjected to banning orders. Amidst the ups and downs of being in political exile, he managed to complete a PhD at the University of Sussex in 1971, and taught at the Law Faculty of the University of Southampton from 1970 to 1977.

He went to Mozambique in 1977 as a legal researcher and professor, helping to develop a new family law system in Mozambique. During his spell in Mozambique, he also served as director of research in the Mozambican Ministry of Justice.

Throughout all these years, the apartheid agents were aware of Sachs's continued revolutionary activities and in 1988 he was nearly killed by a bomb placed in his car by secret agents operating in Maputo. He lost his arm and the sight of one eye. He defiantly confronted the difficult challenge of learning to walk and write again, receiving enormous love and support from all over the world for his courage and spirit. He poignantly describes his ordeal in The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter (published in 1990).

He returned to South Africa in 1990 and served as a member of the Constitutional Committee charged with the task of drafting a new Constitution in keeping with the ethos, principles and values of an apartheid-free society. The first democratic elections of 1994 led to his appointment to the newly established Constitutional Court.

Sachs has travelled to many countries, sharing his experiences on the concept of 'healing societies', and contributing his personal wealth of experience to the reconciliation of societies previously torn apart by racial hatred and political division.

He is a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's International Bioethics Committee and helped to draft the International Declaration for Human Genome.

Sachs was awarded honorary doctorates of law by the universities of Antwerp, York (Toronto), and Southampton and the William Mitchell College of Law.

Sachs fought tirelessly against the apartheid regime, putting the prize of freedom above everything else, even at the risk of his own life. His unshakable determination to realise the dream of a single, united nation at peace with itself has helped to achieve the fruits of freedom.

As a Constitutional Court judge, Albert Louis Sachs continues to safeguard the freedom for which he selflessly sacrificed so much.