Famed South African Jurist and Political Figure Albie Sachs to Speak Sept. 10 at UMass Amherst

Albie Sachs

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Interdisciplinary Studies Institute (ISI) will host famed South African jurist and political figure Albie Sachs for a public lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 4 p.m. in the Integrative Learning Center, Room South 331. Sachs’ lecture, “The Value of Values: Lessons from the South African Transformation,” will inaugurate the theme “Value” for ISI’s 2014-15 faculty seminar.

Sachs, whom the Guardian has called “arguably the world’s most famous judge,” was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and earned a law degree from the University of Cape Town. At the age of 21, he began his practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar defending people charged under the racist statutes and repressive security laws of apartheid. Because of his work in the freedom movement, Sachs was arrested on multiple occasions and placed in solitary confinement for 168 days without trial. He went into exile and spent 11 years studying and teaching law in England, and 11 years in Mozambique working as a law professor and legal researcher. In 1988, he was the target of a car-bomb assassination attempt in Mozambique that cost him his right arm and the sight in his left eye.

Later, he returned to South Africa, where he played a significant role in the transition to democracy. In 1994, Nelson Mandela appointed him to the Constitutional Court of South Africa. He was one of the architects of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996, and participated in numerous landmark cases, including the 2005 ruling that South Africa’s statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman was a violation of the Constitution’s mandate against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Sachs is the recipient of numerous awards, including 14 honorary degrees. In 2014 he was announced the winner of the first annual Tang Prize in the Rule of Law. The Tang Prize Foundation recognized Sachs for his “many contributions to human rights and justice globally” as well as his efforts toward “the realization of the rule of law in a free and democratic South Africa.” Apart from his other accomplishments, Sachs is a critically acclaimed and prolific writer, and in 1991 won the Alan Paton award (South Africa’s highest prize for non-fiction) for his book The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. He repeated this achievement with The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (2009), making him one of two authors to have won the Paton Award twice. Other books include The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1966), Justice in South Africa (1974), Sexism and the Law (1979) and The Free Diary of Albie Sachs (2004).