“Punished for being good” – a biography of Justice Albie Sachs
23 Apr 2019
Writers converse in solitude with their words. By the nature of their work, they are amongst the loneliest people on earth. But writers in prison suffer a particularly acute and perverse castigation in their loneliness. They are punished precisely for being good, not for being bad. Their crime is to bring virtue to a world filled with wickedness, where hatred is glorified, and human hope is denounced.
So, in standing by them we do more than fight against injustice. We reaffirm the profound human right to express ourselves as we are and to let our imaginations lead us where they will. We stand by hope and we link hands in defense of humanity.
– Justice Albie Sachs on the relationship between art and activism and the importance of organisational solidarity
Albie Sachs, born in 1935, is a South African activist and a former judge of the Constitutional Court (1994 – 2009). In 1952, Sachs began his anti-apartheid activism by participating in The Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign during the second year of his legal studies. In 1955, he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted, and, as an advocate, he worked to defend those charged under apartheid’s racist laws. As a result of his activism, Sachs was given banning orders that would restrict his movements and was also placed in solitary confinement for 168 days, without trial. His 22-year exile began in 1966, the first half of which was spent in England and the latter in Mozambique. In 1988, South African security agents pursued Sachs to Mozambique where they placed a bomb in his car, causing him to lose an arm and the sight in one eye.
Sachs played a pivotal role in the 1990 democratic negotiations and was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1994 by former President Nelson Mandela. He was also central to the formation of the 1996 post-apartheid Constitution and has played a major role in the legal, political and cultural life of South Africa both during and after apartheid. He is the author of a number of books, including Stephanie on Trial (1968), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1996), Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter (1990), The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (2009) and We, the People: Insights Of An Activist Judge (2016).
Sachs has received numerous accolades over the years for his writing. He received the Alan Paton Award for both Soft Vengeance and The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs was dramatised by David Edgar for the Royal Shakespeare Company and televised by the BBC.