1935 Born in Johannesburg
1952 Part of the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign
1956 Advocate at the Cape Bar 1963 Imprisoned and kept in solitary confinement
1966 Imprisoned for a further period, again without a trial
1966 Went into exile
1967-1978 Studied and taught law in England
1978-1989 Worked and lived in Mozambique as a law professor and legal researcher
1980 Together with Oliver drafted the ANC’s Code of Conduct along with its statues
1988 Struck by a bomb placed in his car in Maputo by South African security agents
1990 Returned to South Africa 1990-1993 Played an active role in the negotiations (CODESA) which led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy
2000s till date Continues campaign for people's freedoms and liberties through speaking engagements
Albies' life, work, achievements and ideals have uniquely positioned him as a leader and mentor in South Africa and beyond.
His work and words, in print and otherwise, continue to display decades of insights and lessons. This he has accumulated during the struggle for a democracy and the stages of moulding and structuring a new constitutional fabric for the South Africa. His work in the emergence and transformation of the judicial and legal framework of the country has led to his recognition globally.
Albie was born in Johannesburg, in 1935 to Lithuanian parents who arrived around 1914 in South Africa. Albie speaks fondly about his endearment to the sea and the seasides where he grew up in Cape Town. His long walks, gazing over distances and high altitudes made him more aware, in glaring detail, the inequalities that surrounded him.
While at the University of Cape Town, he started championing causes for human rights. In 1955 he was present at the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted. He continued to work tirelessly towards ensuring that South Africa is not reserved for and enjoyed by a select few, but for all.
Albie worked closely with Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. He has helped create legislation and laws that have cast South Africa in a great light globally, yet he remains one to shy away from recognition and praise. At the same time deflecting from the grave price he paid, on the 7th of April 1988 in Maputo Mozambique, when a bomb was placed in his car, by Apartheid South African security agents, blew up, costing him an arm and an eye.
Albie mentions some of his greatest qualities of leadership as; “qualities of a leader who sees his or her role as being partly a historical process, partly a human phase to institutions, political organisations, the community, but involved in a project... The project is for the people, it’s for emancipation, it’s for humanity, it’s for the country, it’s a project to overcome pain, and alienation, and for the disadvantaged and separation, and indignity. It's marvellous to be part of that project.”
Be sceptical, not cynical
Key Quality of a Servant Leader
Justice Albie Sachs
Appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court
Chief architect of the constitution
Landmark case he authored court's decision to legalized same-sex marriage, the 5th country to do so.
2014 First winner of the Tang Prize in Rule of Law, receiving a cash prize of $1.33 million, amongst others
His mother was his first connection to the struggle
".... When my mum brought her two little boykies down from Johannesburg, she had separated from my dad, she stayed with Cissie Gool and Sam Kahn in Green Point, then she moved over here and she was the typist for Moses Kotane. And if uncle Moses was coming, all she would say is: “Tidy up, tidy up uncle Moses is coming.” ... And Moses was comrade, uncle Moses was staying with Eddie Roux in a flat in Clifton. So in that sense, what’s now become the epitome of super-wealthy people, in those days, now in about the late thirties, was an alternative kind of bohemian place where in fact African people, people from the coloured community, white people had some contact through political connection, those were my very first memories.... "
Leadership does not force loyalty
"... Comrade OR Tambo... He never commanded loyalty, we gave loyalty, but he never commanded it. And he will ask me to come and help with some legal things for the movement like a contract, establishing mechanisms, trials for people who had violated the norms of the organisations, stabbings, stealing, sexual assaults, crashing a car, whatever it might be. He didn’t say: “Comrade Albie, present yourself in Lusaka.” He said, very African style: “How is your health? What are conditions like in Mozambique?” So slowly slowly slowly, “Would it be possible for you to come to Lusaka? I know your work is important and it might be difficult, and if you can’t come I’ll fully understand. I’ll speak to President Samora Machel if necessary to make it easy.” Now if someone says: “I will fully understand if you can’t,” you would want to say: “Take me, take me, take me.” If someone says you shall be there, and the middle officials use to say we’ve got a conference in Tasmania, you must be there next Thursday with a 30-page paper, and they felt as a loyal member you say yes I’m coming and people will find reasons for not doing it, he was just the opposite, he would make it easy for you to say no, and then you voluntarily say yes. You wanted to be connected with somebody who appreciated you, who was naturally thoughtful, and kind and responsive, and you’re associating with something that you felt this is purely voluntary, I am not serving, I’m not obedient, I’m not loyal, I’m me. And I'm volunteering in this struggle for freedom and with a leader who acknowledges that kind of connection and appreciates it... "
When Mandela erred in judgment
"... We had to stand up to him, he was absolutely adamant, children must get the vote 15, 16, 17. Three times the Constitutional Committee sent me to argue with Mandela. He wouldn’t sign off, we said 18 and I guess the Asian\ Action's commission said 18, internationally it’s 18, we don’t want people saying that the ANC is getting so desperate they’re getting school children to put them in power. “No, no, no, no,” he would say: “The children sacrificed very much for our freedom,” “But comrade Mandela that was 20 years ago, those children are middle-aged now.” “No no no no history will prove that I was right.” And he afterwards told that story against himself when he wanted to get President Thabo Mbeki to back down and say a president can be wrong, he told that story against himself. And he listened, although he was adamant, he said history will prove he was right, he allowed the Constitutional Committee and the negotiations team to persuade him that he was wrong, and we admired him more for that… And to me these are qualities of a leader who sees his or her role as being partly a historical process, partly a human phase to institutions, to political organisations, to the community, but involved in a project, it’s not about him or her. The project is for the people, it’s for emancipation, it’s for humanity, it’s for the country, it’s a project to overcome pain, and alienation, and (for the) disadvantaged and separation, and indignity. It's marvelous to be part of that project. And a true leader doesn’t think, aw aw aw me me me why again for me all the time, a true leader will say: “Okay why is it that people feel that, how can we engage, how can we talk?... "
Parliament pass laws because we live by the rule of law
"... And of course we all love Nelson Mandela, I worked with him in the underground, Arthur Chaskalson defended him in Rivonia, and how did he show our gratitude? Six months later we struck down two important proclamations he made as President of the country, how to handle the first Local Government Elections, Parliament had asked him to do it and we said Parliament can’t ask him to do it, Parliament must pass the laws itself. It was a profound constitutional principle. And then he showed his qualities as a leader, because he went on television, he doesn’t huff and puff and says: “Who are these people? I was 27 years in jail, I appointed them, and now they feel they have the right to strike down laws that are manifestly positive and needed by the society. He said as President of the country I must be first to show respect for the Constitution, as interpreted by the Constitutional Court. And he emerged with increased prestige as if to say; “You see what a marvelous country I am the President of, we live by the rule of law.” He embodied that spirit and that enabled him, it didn’t diminish him, whereas somebody else might say: “Who are they? What right have they?” and be sour about it, he wasn’t like that at all... "
The landscape that inspired him
".... It was painful. I used to climb Table Mountain every Sunday. I was a very keen mountaineer, at one stage quite good with ropes and everything, and I’ll stand at the top, and I’d hate what I saw, and when you hate beauty there’s something awful because you’ll look down and you will see where are the whites living, all the beautiful areas, while people of colour live faraway on the Flats, and it distressed me, and it became one of the themes of my life to see the beauty of South Africa now being appreciated and enjoyed by everybody, and as to where we are talking now, there’s a battle going on, what’s gonna happen to Maiden’s Curve right next door to here. And is it going to become just another developed area for basically white and maybe a couple of wealthy black people to move in, strengthening the segregation of Cape Town? Or will it become like an open park, a beautiful area of recreation where people can come in their bakkies and by bus and taxis and so on, at least for weekends, and feel this is their outlet, their contact with the sea in addition of course to Clifton Camps Bay and elsewhere... "
Interview took place in 2017
The Constitution is the DNA of Oliver Tambo
"... If one did a paternity test on our Constitution, I know whose DNA will come up, it’s Oliver Tambo. All the basic themes, on the one hand there was pressures for a kind of people’s power, you know, leading party state, on the other hand pressures for group rights, it would have been a disaster, both of them for South Africa, he believed in non-racial democracy, a Bill of Rights, full equality for everybody, protecting language, culture religion, but not for blacks, not for whites, for human beings. That was already in the eighties and he didn’t say: “This is my view, accept it, take it or leave it,” he got the movement the organisation to embody those principles, to defend them and to develop them... "
No factions, no groups, speak your mind
"... There was a moment in Lusaka when Nelson Mandela is now reconnected after 30 years with many people, with comrades he hadn’t seen all this time, and we are in the hall, and it's very exciting and he’s addressing us, and he sits down, he’s now deputy president of the ANC, a technical term: “If you give me a helmet and a whistle, and put me in a uniform, and you give me a knobkierie and a chair, and you say, you’d like me to be the night watchman for the ANC, I will accept that job... He was making an important political point, he wasn’t the messiah coming out to provide leadership, as if somehow he is anointed by history. He was saying: “I am at the service of the organisation.” I’m not sure if he would have made a good night watchman, I think people would have been a bit scared of him cos he looked big and powerful; but I can imagine his head will be all over the place, you know, he wouldn’t be looking out for crooks, he would already be thinking about transforming the country.. But he was making a very very strong point at that stage… and one of the comrades stood up and said: “Comrade President, you know how much we all admire you and respect you, but our feeling is you don't start with a President’s Address, which we then all discuss, open ended discussion, and you sum up at the end, with the President summing up... And Madiba was stung, very patrician, he didn’t enjoy it but he listened at the tea break he went up to the person who’d said that, didn’t talk about that issue, put his arm around him as if to say that’s what I want, people must speak what they think, there were no presidents report which you speaking about, there were never slates, there was never that sense that you’ve got to line up and align yourself with factions and groups and so on... It was always, each person spoke his or her mind, it was amazingly democratic and open and one reason we have the marvellous Constitution we have is that that crucial time of transition, Mandela showed what a great leader he was by being a great listener, great at articulating, but not somebody who laid down the line and said: “Follow me I know best... ”
We live in a world of consumerism and celebrities
"... I won a huge prize for the rule of law, I don’t believe in prizes, but I didn’t for a moment I thought I might be the one person in the world who refused to accept the million dollar prize that was almost out of conceit to show how principled I am, but it would have been odd. It would have been bizarre at this stage in our lives to do that. So then I had to decide what to do with the money, and a big chunk goes to the court, how it works. We still have the same old car slightly, less decrepit than our car that we had before, we don’t change our lifestyle, it's not necessary just because the money's there, but pay off the mortgage ...pay back what we put in to build this house that's fine, have something there for the children, that’s fine. So in that sense, for people who say we’re living in a very competitive society, where the market plays an enormous role, we’re living in a world of consumerism and celebrities, that’s the world we’re living in. Don’t succumb to it, don’t be filled with lamentations, try and change that world as much as you can. But navigate within it, in as dignified, and as decent a way as you can possibly manage... "
A generation of servant leaders
"... I feel very much part of that generation, Albert Luthuli in a sense prefigured Mandela, very different. I can’t see Albert Luthuli being a boxer, he didn’t have that kind of swagger, and poise, that irreverent humour that Madiba had, but he had that openness, that warmth, that embrace, that listening to everybody, and he would say: “Bring in Moses Kotane, I want to hear what the workers are saying.” He enjoyed listening to alternative voices, Mandela also had that kind of approach. Oliver Tambo even more so, if it's possible, even more so. I think it’s important to also dispel a notion, that’s very strong in this country, that somehow the external leadership in those troubled days was top down, commandos, authoritarian, in the nature of things sometimes people try and defend it, from Lusaka, it wasn’t like that at all, Oliver Tambo was a natural democrat, he listened to everybody, he said the ANC is the parliament of the people, which meant you hear all the different voices, he was looking for consensus, he was very very sensitive, I can remember when all the BC people came pouring out of the country, crossing the borders, wanting to come back and fight with a gun in hand, destroy apartheid, they saw Oliver Tambo, who is this guy? In a safari suit, softly spoken, they wanted a revolutionary leader, and who was the revolutionary leader? Yes, oh they loved Yusuf Dadoo, with his pipe and a picture of Lenin, and there were other leaders like that Germa DC could be powerful and commanding, and here was soft spoken OR (Oliver Reginald Tambo) after three or four. OR became the hero. Very fascinating, he would listen, he took people seriously, he thought about their living conditions, problems inside the movement, he was in touch with their parents, their families, and it’s extraordinary how much that generation was influenced by him when it came to taking decisions; Should there be whites on the national executive, some people said: “Come OR you’re a leader, you believe in non-racism, he said: “No, the movement must decide.” When it came to the decision whether torture can be used against captured enemy agents, he loathed that idea but he didn’t think he as president must ban it, he said the movement must take a principled decision. ... "
Fighting for freedom was a good thing
"... I went with my son, Oliver, then aged 5, to a spot where I was growing up in Maputo I wanted him to hear from his daddy, why daddy looks funny, has a short arm, and we were being filmed there. And I felt I could tell him, I’m going to the beach, and boo! I could tell him about being in the hospital, and blood... I’m blind I can’t see, the scarring across my arm, I could tell him that the doctors were kind, I didn’t feel any pain. I didn’t do that, I don't want to tell him about black and white… privilege in South Africa..I want him to know, I want him to learn, but not from me. I was so happy one day when he said, (he came from school) and he said someone said your daddy lost his arm fighting for freedom. I was happy because fighting for freedom was a good thing... You know that thrilled me. I didn't want to say I was fighting for freedom, I was a freedom fighter, you now listen to me. Somehow he got to find his own way. I hate my parents putting their values and thoughts automatically on me. I’m sure I grew up in what wasn't a normal family. We never celebrated birthdays, till this day I don't celebrate birthdays, but you hold a victory for people in struggle, you know it was a different kind of a world..."
When Mandela erred in judgment
"... We had to stand up to him, he was absolutely adamant, children must get the vote 15, 16, 17. Three times the Constitutional Committee sent me to argue with Mandela. He wouldn’t sign off, we said 18 and I guess the Asian\ Action's commission said 18, internationally it’s 18, we don’t want people saying that the ANC is getting so desperate they’re getting school children to put them in power. “No, no, no, no,” he would say: “The children sacrificed very much for our freedom,” “But comrade Mandela that was 20 years ago, those children are middle aged now.” “No no no no history will prove that I was right.” And he afterwards told that story against himself when he wanted to get President Thabo Mbeki to back down and say a president can be wrong, he told that story against himself. And he listened, although he was adamant, he said history will prove he was right, he allowed the Constitutional Committee and the negotiations team to persuade him that he was wrong, and we admired him more for that… And to me these are qualities of a leader who sees his or her role as being partly a historical process, partly a human phase to institutions, to political organisations, to the community, but involved in a project, it’s not about him or her. The project is for the people, it’s for emancipation, it’s for humanity, it’s for the country, it’s a project to overcome pain, and alienation, and (for the) disadvantaged and separation, and indignity. It's marvelous to be part of that project. And a true leader doesn’t think, aw aw aw me me me why again for me all the time, a true leader will say: “Okay why is it that people feel that, how can we engage, how can we talk?... "
Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Albie's conversation.
Servant Leaders must be sceptical, but not cynical
".. We’ve gotta be skeptical, we’ve got to challenge, we’ve got to critique, we’ve got to take nothing for granted, but we must be cynical, cynical means that hope is destroyed inside, and it taints everything, and it doesn’t allow humanity to express its better nature, its angels if you like, skepticism means your feet are on the ground, you’re looking truth in the eye, you’re unafraid, in that sense its scepticism and freedom go hand in hand, but cynicism is to my mind and kind of a toxic thing, that undermines, that defeats, while skepticism strengthens and promotes..".
Daniel in conversation with
Justice Albie Sachs
CHALLENGE, CRITIQUE AND
TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED
LOOK TRUTH IN THE EYE