FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Well, good afternoon to one and all. It says on the clock behind me that we're a little early, but I don't, in fact, think we are a little early. So we're going to go ahead and begin.
My name is Fred Logevall, and just delighted to welcome all of you here on this beautiful afternoon. I am Vice Provost for International Affairs. Here at Cornell, I'm also the Director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and a member of the history faculty. And I have the honor this afternoon of introducing our speaker. And it is always customary to say it's an honor, but in this case, for reasons that I'll explain, a particular honor.
This lecture today is part of a series that we have here at Cornell, and some of you, I think, are new to the institution. So let me just say a few words about the series. This is a Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series that we have had since 2006. And if you have a program you can see a very distinguished list it is. I think the title for this series is an appropriate title because we've had a string of speakers here from academia, from business, from journalism, from government over the years who have spoken on a range of issues pertaining to international affairs.
And the purpose of the series, the purpose of the Foreign Policy Initiative of which it's a part, is to educate the Cornell community on pressing issues of contemporary world affairs. And I think, as I say, that we've had considerable success, if I may be so bold, in doing so. It's part of a Foreign Policy Initiative that we have within the Einaudi Center which seeks to bring together expertise that we have on campus in faculty, in graduate students and undergraduates in considering issues pertaining to foreign policy concerns.
I want to say, first of all, that we're very grateful for the support that we've received for this initiative and for the speaker series from the San Giacomo Charitable Foundation, from Mrs. Judy Biggs, and from the Bartels family. We wouldn't be able to have this series without them. And I also want to alert you to some of our upcoming events very briefly before I introduce our speaker.
The next speaker in the series is the honorable Kim Beazley who is the Australian Ambassador to the United States. And he will present a lecture entitled "Old Ally, New Challenge, Rebalancing in a world clamoring for American attention." And that lecture will be on Tuesday, September 10th at 4:30 PM in 120 Physical Sciences-- this is the new building just off the Arts Quad on East Avenue, I think that you all know. So Ambassador Beasley will be here on September 10th at 4:30.
Then Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor and Rector of the University of the Free State in South Africa, will be giving a talk entitled, "The Role of Higher Education in the Development of South Africa." Something that I suspect our speaker today knows a thing or two about. That's going to be on October 22nd at 4:30, again, in 120 Physical Sciences, also part of this series.
Finally, I want to alert you to the annual Lund Critical Debate, which will be held this year during International Education Week, which is in November. And the subject this year is a rather apropos, or rather timely, subject. "The Case of Drone Strikes." And this being a debate, we have invited speakers who feel differently about drones and the ethics involved, perhaps also the utility from a foreign policy perspective. The speakers will be Mary O'Connell of the University of Notre Dame Law School and Michael W. Lewis of Ohio Northern University, a former Top Gun pilot for the US Air Force. I'm not going to tell you which side the two of them are on.
And maybe you shouldn't speculate on the information I've given. We also have information on our web calendar, so I urge you to pay attention to the web and to what we have on the Einaudi website regarding events that are forthcoming.
Now, however, I want to introduce our speaker. Albie Sachs will give the Andrew D. White, Professor-at-Large public lecture as part of this series that I've described. Today's talk will be "Liberating the Mind and Liberating the Heart: the South African experience in dealing with terrorism and torture."
Albie Sachs is a distinguished lawyer, judge, activist, scholar, and author. He is a renowned former South African Constitutional Court Justice and anti-apartheid activist. And he was appointed-- I guess this happened some time last year I believe that he was appointed as the A.D. White Professor here at Cornell. I think I speak for many of us, certainly all of us who were involved in this in any capacity in saying that we were thrilled when he was appointed to be the A.D. White Professor.
At a young age, Professor Sachs was inspired by his father's wish that he grow up to be a soldier and to fight for liberation. And he was a good son, because he turned out to be at the forefront. He became a leader in the struggle for justice and freedom in South Africa. During apartheid, he endured a period of exile. He lost an arm and the sight in one eye from a bomb planted in his car, all the while that he strove to make South Africa a better place for all.
As a law student at the tender age of 17-- in South Africa, one begins legal studies earlier than in the United States. And a law student and at the age of 17, Professor Sachs began his career in human rights activism. His involvement in this line of work landed him in trouble with the police on several occasions, as he was subjected to imprisonment, solitary confinement, detention, and banning orders. In the 1980s, Professor Sachs helped to draft the African National Congress Code of Conduct, along with its statues, with Oliver Tambo, the leader of the organization. He also worked to prepare a new democratic constitution for South Africa during this time.
In due course, he became the National Executive of the ANC and a member of the Constitutional Committee. He took part in the negotiations that made South Africa a constitutional democracy, and he was appointed by Nelson Mandela to serve in the Constitutional Court. Through his time as judge he earned a reputation as the conscience of the court. And he made many landmark judgments, including one that made South Africa the fifth nation to recognize same sex marriage.
All the while, Professor Sachs remained an active scholar. He has written many published works, lectured at universities throughout the world. I learned that this is his first visit, however, to Cornell. And he has received several honorary degrees. Among his works are The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, published in 1978. Running to Maputo, 1990. The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law, 2009. And The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, 2011.
Albie Sachs's determination has helped to bring about change to South African society, and his initiatives and enthusiasm are recognized on a worldwide scale. We're honored to have him here with us at Cornell. And not, might I note, just for a day or two. I believe he's here for 10 days, which I think is just marvelous. Has an opportunity to meet with students, to interact with many of us, and in particular, this afternoon, to give us the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large public lecture, please join me in welcoming Albie Sachs.
ALBIE SACHS: Everything suddenly went dark. I knew that something terrible was happening to me. If I was alive, I didn't know. If I was dead, I didn't know. And into the darkness I hear a voice saying to me in Portuguese, "Albie, this is Eva [INAUDIBLE]. You're in the Maputo Central Hospital. Your arm is in a lamentable condition. You must face the future with courage." And into the darkness I said, "What happened?" And through the darkness I heard a voice saying, "It was a car bomb." It was a woman's voice.
I fainted back into obscurity, but with a sense of joy. That moment that every Freedom Fighter is waiting for, will they come for me today? Will I get through the night? If they come for me, will I be brave? Will I survive? That moment had come, they'd come for me, they tried to kill me, and I'd survived, and I knew that I would survive. And I had a total conviction that as I got better, my country would get better-- 1988. Maputo, Mozambique, right next to South Africa where I was working as a law professor in exile.
Some time passed. I feel I'm lying on my back, I can't see anything. I'm feeling very lightheaded, happy. And I told myself a joke. It's a joke about Hymie Cohan who, like me, is a Jew. He falls off a bus. It's an old joke. Some of you would have heard it. And he gets up and he makes this gesture, and someone says, "Hymie," I didn't know you were Catholic." "What do you mean Catholic?" "Spectacles, testicles, wallet, and watch."
For some reason, I started with testicles. Everything in order, and amusingly, when the story was told afterwards, I have tried to be macho without success all my life. Became the huge hero in the ANC camps. And the first thing Comrade Albie did was reach for his balls.
I feel for my heart, wallet. If my heart's damaged, that can be serious. Bandage was there, but it seems OK. My brain, spectacles. If there's a deep crater, that can knock me out. I seem to be all right. And my arm slides down and I encounter this gap, and I feel fantastic. It's only an arm. And I'm going to live and get strong, and my country's going to live and get strong.
A few weeks later, I'm in hospital in London and feeling basically, buoyant and bright. Life's suddenly so simple-- just get better. All the multiple complications, and contradictions, and what if, and should I, just gone. Just got to get better.
But about 4:00 in the morning I'd wake up, and it's still dark, just beginning to get light, early summer. The pain killers are wearing off. There are no nurses around, and I feel very isolated and alone. And I would sing to myself in the total quiet. Even feeling the irony, I'm singing to myself a Negro spiritual to my secular Albie. Paul Robeson song that I'd learned in our youth movement.
[SINGING] "It's me, it's me, oh, Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It's me, it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It's not my brother nor my sister but it's me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. [END SINGING] And then I would go through my uncles, and my aunties, and my cousins, and sound [SINGING] standing in need of prayer. It's me, it's me, O Lord." [END SINGING] And then I would sink back into sleep again, maybe wake up an hour or two later. The nurses are there drinking tea, cheerful again.
And one day as I'm getting stronger, I receive a note, and open the envelope-- do you remember envelopes? Those things we used to get.
Take out a piece of paper, "Dear Comrade Albie. Don't worry. We will avenge you. Signed, Comrade Bobby." And I think, avenge me? We can cut off the arms, we can have blind in one eye. Is that what we're fighting for? Is that the kind of country we want to create?
And the thought passes through my mind. If we get freedom in South Africa, if we get democracy, if we get rights for all, that will be my soft vengeance. Roses and lilies will grow out of my arm.
And some weeks later, more new comes through to me. Have you heard? Have you heard? They captured one of the persons who put the bomb in your car. And the thought passes through my mind, if he's put on trial, any evidence is insufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he's guilty and he's acquitted, that will be my soft vengeance, because then we're living under the rule of law, and that's what we're fighting for. That's more important that we have that system that we send one rascal to jail.
And when I came to write the book on that whole experience, the title just declared itself, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. And that's the first of the stories-- I'm going to tell you three stories today, and that's where, in a sense, heart, sympathy, empathy, mind, intelligence, rationality came together with this notion of soft vengeance where you don't do to them what they've done to you. The soft vengeance is the triumph of the ideals for which you got into that situation in the first place. It's a much more powerful vengeance than simply proving that you're stronger than them, they beat you down, and now it's your turn to beat them down. It's the victory of your idealism. It's the justification, validation, everything you and all the others have been through.
The second story deals with how we achieved the vision of a bill of rights in a democratic South Africa. And the story starts, 1974. I'm in exile in London. It's quite a while before I was blown up. And I discover-- I'm quietly teaching law at the University of Southampton, and I discover I'm a terrorist. Why? Yale University have invited me to a conference on contemporary South African history, and I know that as a member of the ANC, I will not get a Visa because I am a terrorist because I belong to the ANC, which is an organization committed to violence.
That was on a Monday. On Tuesday I discovered I'm not a terrorist after all. The lobby group against apartheid South Africa just tipped the balance in favor of us at least having an opportunity to express our position. So Monday I'm a terrorist, on Tuesday I'm not a terrorist, I get my Visa, and I visit the US for the first time. We felt so indignant at being called terrorists.
And it wasn't just a nasty label. You paid a price. Calling us terrorists was used to justify detaining us without trial, locking us up in solitary confinement, and all the things that happen when you are away from judicial control, when people are locked up without the ordinary forms of mechanisms to ensure that people are not tortured, they don't disappear, that they have rights. They have rights simply because they are human beings, and nothing more is required than you are a human being, and certain things shall not be done to you.
In my case, I'm going into my chambers. I'm practicing as an advocate, an attorney in the high court in Cape Town. And like you see in the movies, suddenly from nowhere, it seems like six huge police who'd been reading newspapers and tying shoelaces, and leaning against a car, suddenly they move. And the next thing I know, I'm in solitary confinement, locked up in a big concrete cube with a high window up there. A mat on the floor, little toilet in the corner. So this is what it's like.
Again, that moment that every Freedom Fighter is imagining and thinking about. Now you're in jail, which was worse-- far worse than anything I'd imagined and expected. Just sheer isolation. You stare at your toes, you stare at the wall, at your toes, at the wall, at your toes, at the wall. And one minute has passed. And you're locked up under what's called the 90-day law. They can keep you without access to lawyers, without access to court, to family, to anybody for 90 days while you're being interrogated on the basis that they suspect you have information that would aid terrorists.
I tried to invent various mechanisms to keep myself in touch with myself. I would try and count the number of States in the United States of America. I vaguely remember, it was 48, maybe two more made it up to 50, I wasn't quite sure. And I go through all the As-- I can't write down the names on a piece of paper because there's no paper. I'm amused now that I've been here more often, but we used to say Alabama, Arkansas. I'd go through the Bs, the Cs. I think the best I got up to once was like 47, but I'm counting-- I had 10 fingers then, but 10 to try and remember.
I would sing songs. Go through the alphabet-- "Always," "Because," "Charmaine"-- anybody who's interested in the hit tunes of 1963 would just have to see my repertoire at the time. "Daisy." I remember X was difficult, so I cheated a bit, "Deep in the Heart of Texas."
And my favorite was always, [SINGING] I'll be living here, always. Year after year, always. In this little cell that I know so well, I'll be living swell, always, always. [END SINGING] And I would twirl around a little waltz, and feel amused that this Noel Coward song of upper middle class, English manners, derived from Irving Berlin's tribute to his wife, was keeping a young Freedom Fighter in South Africa in good spirits. [SINGING] I'll be staying in, always. Keeping up my chin, always. Not for about an hour, not for about a week, not for 90 days, but always. [END SINGING]
The 90th day comes. I don't know how I got through. I got through because you had to get through. On a good day, I would just be depressed-- that was on a good day. A bad day, deep, deep, deep, dark depression and sense of hopelessness. And all the phrases of the struggle, the ideals, just went. They vanished. You're living in this little cocoon. And those words seem to mean nothing to you-- freedom, democracy, rights for all. It's just very, very abstract. Some kind of inner sense of dignity and defiance and not giving in to them was at play, and not that rational self based on ideological convictions somehow kept me going.
I've given back my tie, the suit that I'd been wearing going into chambers, my shoelaces, my watch. Am I free? Yes, yes, yes, you're free. Chatting away. I go to the front door of the police station, policeman's coming in, big smile on his face, puts out his hand to shake my hand. "I'm placing you under arrest under the 90-day law."
In the South African arrest tradition taken from England, you touch the person on the body. I don't know if it's the same in the US. When you effect the arrest, where he did it by shaking my hand. I go back, they take away my shoelaces, my watch, my tie, and I'm in for another 78 days. I never found out-- I can speculate, I can guess, but I never found out why I was arrested.
But suddenly I'm released, but there's little explanation as why I was detained. And I was so joyous, I just ran from the center of Cape Town further than I'd ever run in my life, maybe eight, nine miles to the sea and flung myself in. The sense of just joy that I'd survived, that I'd got through.
And two years later, I'm in a second time, and you don't get stronger each time. It doesn't get easier each time. And now the interrogation is much more relentless, and it's through the day and through the night. And I think something's put in my food and I feel myself getting weaker, and weaker, and weaker, and weaker. And they bang the table for 10 minutes-- terrific din-- and then silence for 50 minutes. And working-- and realize banging the table and silence, and I feel myself collapsing, and I know that I'm breaking, and I want to try and control my breakdown.
And eventually into the next day, I topple onto the floor. They all come rushing in. I see there's brown shoes and black shoes all around me. The urgency, the way they're speaking, that's the moment they're waiting for. They lift me up and the Colonel Swanepoel-- Rooi Rus, they called him-- lifts me up, prises my eyes open. I sit and I collapse again. It happens a few times. And now I'm thinking how can I control my defeat and limit its impact.
I've never got over that. It was a kind of humiliation, a sense of sadness, that's like a sediment in my body and my soul. It'll always be there. Because I was, in [INAUDIBLE], a terrorist. Believing in freedom, democracy, equal rights for everybody, that we could also live together as equals. That's why these things happened to me.
The way I wrote it up at the time in The Jail Diary was I've done lots of bad things in my life, but one thing I know, I'm sure, for sure, I'm being locked up now not for being bad, but for being good. And that's what was happening not just to me. I'm speaking to you. The example is here today telling the story, but we have thousands and thousands of people who went through that. Most of them poor people, most of them their stories have never been heard, never been told, except maybe to their children, their family, their loved ones.
So that wasn't just a nasty appellation. The description 'terrorist' became the justification for denying all ordinary principles of law and humanity to thousands and thousands of our people. And to make it even more paradoxical, we, in the ANC, we're against terrorism. That was the era of Islams. Those of you who were around politically then will remember, not only socialism and capitalism and communism, and there were lots of isms. And one of the isms was terrorism, and in our movement, terrorism was something nasty. You would accuse somebody of no, no, no, that would be terrorism. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Please.
And terrorism was seen as directing some form of physical force against soft civilian targets of the population that you're fighting against in order to terrorize them into giving way. And it was totally against everything we believed in, everything we wanted to do. And it was a time when-- I remember in exile, airplanes were being hijacked. I see a film has come out recently about Leila Khaled who was one of the heroes of the Palestinian Movement. She hijacked a plane. And people were saying to our leadership, "Why didn't you do that? Are you scared? Are you too timid? They're getting headlines every day and who hears about our struggle in South Africa?" And our leadership said no.
And I know part of the reason was-- part of the reason was that it would be playing into the hands of white domination people in South Africa. You see, we're fighting against terrorists, we're defending civilization, it's caught up in the Cold War. That was one reason, the tactical, if you like, diplomatic reason for being against it. It was also who knows who's flying that airplane. It might even be somebody who's a supporter of your organization in that plane. The indiscriminate character. Don't do it.
But that wasn't the real reason. The real reason-- I'm convinced of this for people like Oliver Tambo, the leader in exile of the ANC-- was that if we become instruments of death, what do we do to ourselves? It's not only do we do to the people who are blown up and maimed. What do we do to ourselves? We are losing our core humanity, the very thing that makes us fight for freedom in the first place and that keeps us all together.
So we were against terrorism. The story now moves forward to I'm working as a law professor and legal researcher in Mozambique in exile. The phone rings one day. I'm told it's Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC in exile would like to speak to you. Uh-huh. Go to the phone. He asked me after my health, what's the weather like in Mozambique. Very African style. You don't rush in. You establish contact with the person you're speaking to. What's going on? What's it all about?
He said, "Something important has cropped up and we think you might be able to assist. Could you possibly come to Dusaka? If necessary," he said, "I can speak to President Samora Machel. Of course, if you can't do, I will fully understand."
Now, this wasn't the way a functionary in the ANC would work. The functionary would phone and say, Comrade, oh, you have to be in Greenland on Monday and have a 30-page document available. Yes, the president's saying, "If you can't do it, I fully understand." And you want to say, take me, take me, take me. And a week later I'm in Lusaka. I'm traveling down to that little office that ANC had, wondering what it's all about.
I'm taken into the office where he is. And I remember so vividly that Oliver, OR, as we called him, had a rolled up piece of newspaper and he was swatting flies. And I somehow felt that he should be focusing on the revolution in South Africa, not swatting flies while he's talking to me. And he asked after my health, and how things are going in Mozambique, and I'm waiting, waiting, waiting.
Eventually he said, "We've encountered a difficulty. We've captured many people who've been seen by Pretoria to destroy our organization, and we don't have any regulations about how to deal with captives." We're the ANC, we're not a state. Most political parties don't have articles in their constitution dealing with what you do with captured opponents. Maybe the Republicans or the Democrats would love to have something like that, but that's not normal.
And he says, "It must be very difficult." So in my jaunty, lawyerly way, I say, "Well, it's not so difficult. The international legal instruments that say no torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment." He says, "We use torture." "What?" I can't believe it. "We're fighting for freedom. We use torture?" His face is bleak.
He said, "We have no rules." And the request to me was could I work under his leadership to produce a code of conduct, which in effect turned out to be, I would say, the most important legal document I've written in my life. Exceeding any judgment opinion I write for our court, any other books I might have written. The code of conduct for a liberation movement in exile, in effect it was a code of criminal law and a code of criminal procedure to ensure elements of legality.
We didn't have a state. We didn't have prisons. We didn't have the judges, lawyers. We had lawyers in the organization, but not lawyers who were fulfilling the role of defending people accused of having done something wrong inside the ANC.
And I remember working out categorizing the minor kind of misdemeanors and offenses-- the person comes drunk to a meeting, he's a terrible nuisance, you don't use the full power of the organization. You've got to find political means of handling that. And then much more serious, the person who stabbed somebody else, who steals, who drives a car drunk, who assaults a man or woman. Serious things. Very serious things. How to deal with it?
Establishing mechanisms of presenting a charge, establishing a tribunal-- people to be as independent, objective as possible, hearing both sides, ability to confront the witnesses against you to test the evidence. And a finding-- we didn't use phrases like 'beyond reasonable doubt,' but being like 'quite sure' or words like that that ordinary people not trained in the law would be able to administer. And then the most difficult was dealing with people sent to destroy the organization or accused of doing that.
All of this was accepted. We had a conference of the ANC in a small town called Kabwe in Zambia. We were surrounded by Zambian troops. If commanders came from South Africa they could have destroyed the whole leadership of the ANC in exile, together with many other people. And we're discussing a code of conduct in a way, to protect the body and the person of people who are being sent to destroy us.
And the one issue that was contested or could have been controversial, not the code of conduct in general, was is it permissible to use what was called intensive methods of interrogation in circumstances of extremity. We didn't use the term ticking bomb, but everybody understood it was a ticking bomb situation.
Oliver Tambo felt this is a deep moral question. The organization as an organization must take a stand. It's not just for him as the leader saying thou shalt not use torture. It's something the Movement must embrace. It must become part of the ethos. It must have a democratic mandate inside the Movement. We put it to the conference, about 240 delegates of people, basically, in exile, from the military, some from the underground participating in the vote. And I'm asked to present a document.
High platform-- much higher than this-- and I remember two young guys immediately come up onto the platform wanting to speak. And each is a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe with the armed wing of the ANC. And the first one says straightaway, he said, "You can't make any exceptions. No torture," he said. "If you give the slightest leeway, it never stops there. And we must be very, very firm."
The next guy goes up and he says, "We are fighting for life. How can we be against life?" Even now when I repeat that, I feel gooseflesh. "We are fighting for life. How can we be against life?" That was the core of everything. It's who we were. That's what kept us together on Robben Island, even the people going to the gallows singing freedom songs. That sense of it's for an ideal, it's for something, it's for humanity. That's who we are. We are Freedom Fighters. We are not killers. We are not torturers. We're not people who break arms simply for the sake of compelling other human beings through pain to speak, to say whatever they might say.
Unanimously we decided, no intensive methods of interrogation in extreme conditions. That was a euphemism really for soft-hard torture, call it what you like. And immediately the circumstances changed. I wish I could say there was never an abuse after that, but it was totally transformed. The abuses became exceptional and hidden. And we as a Movement had re-validated our belief in those core values that had brought us together from totally, totally different circumstances, life experiences. This was what united us. This became that germ, the embryo, of the vision of the new South Africa where we could live together, respecting each other.
And not too long after that, the ANC adopts the idea of having an entrenched Bill of Rights in the future democratic South Africa. [INAUDIBLE]. And I'm asked to present that to a workshop that we have on constitutional principles for a new South Africa. And I remember, my heart was going boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. The first explanation, rationale, was easy. We want a Bill of Rights because we want to look good. We want to counteract this notion that we are terrorists, indiscriminately going to murder and create mayhem when we become the majority in the country.
The second was a very Oliver Tambo thing. It was his answer to protected constitutional entrenchments for the whites, which many people, even anti-apartheid people were saying-- couldn't understand the position of the whites. You can't expect them to hand over power. Then they will be defenseless. And you've got to build in some kind of veto into the constitutional system. We knew that that would be a disaster in South Africa because that would make race a dominant feature of our constitutional order. And the constitution will be seen as an impediment to emancipation, an impediment to transformation and change. The very constitution that should be that liberatory instrument now becomes the bulwark against any redistribution with the whites by law owning 87% of the property, in practice, 95% of productive capital.
The bill of rights could have been seen as a bill of whites. The constitution could have been seen as a document to make sure that the white minority, 15%, can veto any new legislation to bring about transformation in South Africa. And O-R had this notion really, really clear. A bill of rights is there for majorities and minorities, for individuals, for communities, for everybody. That's its strength. It's not racially based. It protects language rights, it protects religious rights, it protects association rights, and freedom rights equally for everybody.
And in the end, our battles that we had over the constitution were really about that. It took us six years. There were many breakdowns, rolling mass action, massacres. It wasn't an easy, straightforward process. But in the end, we got a non-racial, non-sexist South African constitution based on the Oliver Tambo vision of a bill of rights securing the interests of everybody in South Africa.
But my heart wasn't going boom, boom, boom, boom because of that. It was going boom, boom, boom, boom for the third reason. I said, "We need a bill of rights against ourselves." But nobody is anointed by history to be perfect. And we'd lived in countries that had given us enormous support in our struggle. We could see authoritarian practices, sometimes even dictatorial practices. So we needed the bill of rights for our nation, for future generations.
And I was wondering, what are they going to say? It's easy for Albie. He's the lawyer, he believes in this kind of stuff. They, middle class, they're OK. We, faced with the realities of daily grinding life in our society. We don't want to be trammelled and held back by. And I just saw looks of delight in the eyes of the people here, because they were all feeling that. They knew we had frailties, we'd done bad things. There'd been people who did things that were completely inconsistent with our values, and we needed that in our future South Africa.
And so these experiences, not an essay you're writing to get a good mark from your law teacher or a nice peer review to be published, experiences we'd lived through taught us, just as, in my case, being in Mozambique I learned the importance of pluralism and diversity in practice, not as an ideological conceptual thing. In practice.
If you don't have space for opposition, opposition doesn't disappear. It goes underground. It gets picked up by international forces. You get calamitous consequences for the country. You've got to have a society for the people, but the people are diverse and the people must be able to express themselves in different ways. We learned all these things in practice.
So this is the second story then, how the bill of rights came to be achieved in the heart of our organization as a liberation movement in exile controlling the conduct of our security and political forces in relation to our membership at that stage. It was easy afterwards to translate that to the country as a whole. It wasn't simply to meet the other side, to prove to the Americans, the British, the French, that we're civilized and know about the rule of law.
The last story I'm going to tell deals with how sought vengeance and the bill of rights came together in my personal life, and, in a way, in the life of the nation. It also starts with a phone call. Justice Albie Sachs, sitting in my chambers preparing for a case. The phone rings and a voice says, "This is reception here. There's a man called Henry, says he has an appointment to meet you." "Send him through," I say. And I go to the security gate, and this heart is going boom, boom, boom, boom again.
Henry had phoned me to say that he had organized the placing of the bomb in my car. He's now going to the Truth Commission, and am I willing to meet him, and I said, yes. I open the door, I see Henry-- tall-ish, thin, a bit like me. He's looking at me, I'm looking at him. And I can see in his eyes, so this was the man I tried to kill, and he can see in my eyes, this is the man who tried to kill me. We'd never met each other. We hadn't fought over position, money, love, passion. We didn't even know each other. I was on this side, he was on that side. He tried to kill me.
We walk down to my office, he's striding like a soldier, and I'm using my best judge's ambulation to slow him down. We sit down, we talk. We talk, we talk, we talk, we talk with a kind of fascination. And eventually, I stand up and I say, "Henry, I have to get on with my work. I have to say goodbye. Normally when I say goodbye to somebody, I shake that person's hand. I can't shake your hand. But go to the Truth Commission and tell them what you know. Maybe we'll meet one day, who knows."
And I remember as he walked back to the security gate, he's shuffling along like a defeated person. He goes through, I close the door, I forget about him. Now, what was this Truth Commission? Its origins are not really well-known. But we had a debate in the National Executive. I wasn't the National Executive, I was a member of the National Executive. There was a typo in the document that you had.
And it's what should we do about a commission of inquiry the ANC had set out to the Violations of Human Rights committed by the ANC against the people whom we'd captured and tortured. We set up that commission. And the commission reported that the evidence, prima facie showed that there had been these violations, and we feel the ANC must follow through. And we're having a heated debate on the question. Some of us standing up and saying, we asked for the commission, they've reported, we've got to follow through.
And others saying, you've got to understand the circumstances in Angola, civil war in Angola, the guards were untrained people. They'd been to university, they'd left university to go and fight for freedom. None of them had been trained as security officers. They did to the people-- they kept to the things that were done to them. Before they escaped they beat them up. It would be unfair to take any action against them.
I remember Pallo Jordan, one of our leading intellectuals, standing up and saying, "Comrades, I've learned something very interesting today. There's a thing called regime torture which is bad, and this ANC torture which is OK. Thank you for enlightening me." And he sat down.
And then one of the members stood up and said, "What would my mother say?" My mother being his mother-- an African women, maybe three or four years schooling, not learned in the world, with a great sense of right and wrong. "And my mother would say there's something strange about this organization. Yes, it's correct to examine the things that you've done wrong. But look at what they've been doing to us for decades and centuries, and we're not looking at that at all. Where is the balance?"
And then my friend and fellow member of the NEC Kader Asmal got up and said, "What we need is a Truth Commission." And he had done his inaugural lecture coming back from exile on transitional justice. That phrase wasn't used then. And all the different things done in Eastern Europe and elsewhere to deal with people who committed offenses in the previous regime. He recommended a Truth Commission. And we knew that that was the answer. It's a kind of issue you can't decide on a show of hands. Deep moral questions you don't decide by majority decision. You've got to get a consensus on the principle that's involved.
So paradoxically in South Africa, the Truth Commission was established because the ANC wanted to have a public examination of violations by its own members while in exile of people sent to destroy the organization. But across the board basis by the nation, not just the organization, and that would bring in the police, security agents, and so on. That was the one point of initiation.
We eventually, after years of battling over the text of the constitution, we get a text, we sign it, we feel it's overs-cadovers. Now we can have our elections. I fly to London, I'm invited by the Catholic Institute for International Relations to report back to them. They had given us a lot of support over the years. And they put me up in a little hotel in King's Cross, back to my grass roots accommodation.
As negotiations advanced, our accommodation got better, and we ended up in quite a smart hotel near the place we were negotiating. Now I'm back to grass roots, and that's relevant because there was no fax machine there. Remember fax machines? [TICKING SOUND] You tear off the little bits at the side. And I'm going to sleep, it's late in the evening. Knock on the door. "Sorry to disturb you, Professor Sachs. This fax has arrived, it's very urgent."
And I read it, and the fax says that there's a crisis in South Africa. Security have said that they were promised by de Klerk that they would get an amnesty. They defended the negotiation process. They will defend the elections. And they know that there are plans to bomb the election to smithereens. They'll risk their life to do that, but not if they're going to go to jail afterwards. That's asking too much. They're not going to have a coup, anything like that. They will simply resign and leave the country. And a note from our leadership indicating some sympathy for the situation which they found themselves, and a feeling that they had been betrayed, perhaps, by their own leadership.
And I remember turning over the page and writing on the back, because it wasn't a hotel with nice note paper, suggesting that we can't grant a general amnesty. We just can't do that. Just wipe out everything that happened. But we can link an amnesty with the Truth Commission.
People must come forward, acknowledge what they've done in exchange for truth, in exchange for discovering the bodies of the people who disappeared, and finding out the last moments of people who died, in exchange for understanding how these things happened, in exchange for being able to take measures to prevent it from happening again, amnesty can be granted. And special mechanisms set up to hear from the little people in the small halls, not beautiful rooms like this-- the small halls in the townships. How they suffered, how they lost members of their family, disappeared, and so on. And the Truth Commission now is functioning.
I might say that it functioned so well because it was established in violation of a proposal I had made. I'd said, if we want to hear what really happened, the serious investigations of the killers and the torturers must take place behind closed doors, otherwise we'd never get the truth.
And civil society organizations that weren't too happy with this idea of amnesty at all, interesting-- those of us who went through the mill, we felt we must move forward. We must move on. We must transform. Our whole country must get the lineaments, the foundations of the new society right. We must have a common understanding of what happened in the past. We must move forward. People who hadn't been so much involved in the struggle. They hadn't suffered in their bodies. No, no, no, no, no. There's got to be accountability for each individual, as though somehow that was a greater principle than the principle of eradicating the causes, getting the truth, and creating the foundations of the rule of law in future.
In any event, I was overruled, and the civil society people said, at the very least, let it be in public. And that was foundational to the whole project. Nobody reads the report. It's a beautiful report in five volumes written with vivacity and strength. Everybody remembers the television, the appearances, the radio, the press reports. It wasn't just capturing part of South-African history, it became part of South-African history. It was a narrative in itself.
And we saw the faces, we heard the lamentations, the tears, even the confessions or admissions by these people in these suits with their little mustaches, sometimes reading from a piece of paper. It's the only time I think that people have come forward to say, yes, I tortured. Yes, I was an assassin. Yes, I did these things. And not boastfully. And I wish they'd done it in a less stiff way with more emotion, more as human beings, less advised by their lawyers, and so on. But it was something. And it created the possibilities for our country to move forward because the pain was acknowledged.
And at least it means, as somebody put it, we moved knowledge from knowledge to acknowledgement. You get the difference. Knowledge is information. Everybody knows terrible things happened-- racism-- in this country, the lynching. You know it in detail. You've got the statistics. That's not acknowledgment.
Acknowledgment was how does that impact on me? Where was I at the time? What would I have done? What would my response be or had been at that stage? How would I have felt if it had been happening to me? That's acknowledgement where you immerse yourself in the phenomenological, if you like, situation and you take it to heart, and you moralize internally about, and that was deep, and that was profound. And that's what we got.
It also meant no room for denialism in South Africa. We heard it from the killers themselves. They told the stories of what they did. Nobody can come forward and say, these things didn't happen. It's all a lie. ANC government invented them, communist plot, because we heard it out of their mouths. So profoundly important.
For me, in a very personal way, the actual writing of our constitution and getting it overwhelmingly supported by democratically-elected government, with its expansive notions of equality, with its social and economic rights being incorporated, with its expansive notion of freedom, that was part of soft vengeance. To me, that was far more meaningful than sending Henry to jail, which would have done nothing for me. But to see the fruiting, if you like, of the things that had kept us all together, that we believed in, and you're told all the time 'what's the matter with you?' You're made to feel an oddball because you believe in these fundamental things and transforming your society.
It's great not to feel you're an oddball anymore. To feel that those core, deep values that you had are normal decent values for society, for your society. It's a validation of your life, of your striving. It's more than just a validation of a particular political formation and a program. It's a validation of idealism in itself. It's tremendous. That is much more healing. I keep looking, I haven't seen any roses and lilies actually coming out. But in a spiritual sense, it'd certainly be in abundance.
And your Constitutional Court. Being on the court. Building the court in the heart of a prison, representing that transformation from negativity into positivity. That terrible energy that lay buried in those stones, in that steel. That same energy. You don't say it didn't happen. It happened. That energy is there, but you convert it, you transform it. That same energy now becomes hope, it becomes positive. It's powerful. We lived through that. To me, that means much more than sending Henry and the others to jail.
And we got a beautiful building-- that's like a bonus-- with great South African architects and reconfiguring the nature of what a courthouse can be like. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it's the most beautiful courtroom she's ever seen in the world. And we believe that. And that's another story for another occasion. But that also became part of soft vengeance for Albie, who was on the Decor Committee, responsible for that. But soft vengeance for South Africa, for the nation.
I'm still the judge, end of year, going with a friend to a party. We work very, very hard. I'm tired. I'm looking forward to end of year party. That's our summer there. I get in. The band is playing loud music-- nice strong sort of dance jazz South-African style.
And I hear a voice, "Albie. Albie!" My god it's Henry. I'd forgotten about him, and he's got a huge smile on his face. And he comes up to me, he's beaming, and he said-- he's calling me Albie. "I went to the Truth Commission and I spoke to Bobby and Sue and Farouk-- that same Bobby who'd written to me. And Sue Rapkin and Farouk, all of whom could have been victims of that bomb. They're now aiding the Truth Commission.
"I told them everything I knew. And you say that one day--" And I said, "Henry, I've only got your face to tell me that's what you're saying is the truth." And I put out my hand and I shook his hand. He went away absolutely elated. I almost fainted.
I heard afterwards that he left the party very suddenly and he went home and he cried for two weeks. People, they were making a film about the soldier who had gone to the Truth Commission. They couldn't understand why he disappeared. And I was very moved by that. Henry's not my friend. I won't phone him up and say, let's go to a movie together or have a drink. But if I'm sitting in a bus and he sits down next to me, I'll say, "Oh, Henry, how are you getting on," because we're living in the same country. We're both South-Africans now, and that really, I feel, is my soft vengeance. Thank you.
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Our distinguished guest has agreed to take some questions, and so I'd like you to do that. I would ask that you keep your questions brief, that way we can have more people involved. The floor is open.
AUDIENCE: My question is do you celebrate Seder night, and what does that mean to you?
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Louder.
AUDIENCE: Do you celebrate Seder-- the Pesach Seder, and what does that mean to you? Have you [INAUDIBLE] in South Africa?
ALBIE SACHS: I'll take a few questions. The question is do I celebrate the Seder-- that's the Passover, the Jewish Passover, which has passed, and Rosh Hashana's coming quite soon-- and what does that mean to me. I've got the question.
AUDIENCE: Firstly, thank you very much, Mr. Sachs, for-- I'd like to especially thank you very much [INAUDIBLE] It doesn't get old hearing you speak [INAUDIBLE] time. [INAUDIBLE] But I'd just like to know, in your perspective, what freedoms do you think this generation of South Africans still needs [INAUDIBLE]?
ALBIE SACHS: Sorry, could you come a little closer? There's a bit of a hum at the back.
AUDIENCE: I would just like to know, in your perspective, what freedoms do you think that this generation of South Africans still needs to fight and, that said, what's your [INAUDIBLE] for this generation, sir?
ALBIE SACHS: OK, the question was the speaker said, she's a South-African law student. She's read some of my judgment. She didn't say my brilliant judgments. [LAUGHTER] And she wants to know what advice would I offer her generation of young South-Africans.
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Other questions. Yes.
AUDIENCE: This is a much less complex question.
[INAUDIBLE] just before George W. Bush presided or [INAUDIBLE], they discovered that Mandela's name and the [INAUDIBLE], 2007 [INAUDIBLE] seen everywhere. Surprisingly, [INAUDIBLE]. When were you officially removed from the terrorist list, if you have any idea of that? Or were you part of that [INAUDIBLE]?
ALBIE SACHS: OK, let me take these three.
I'm very secular. I am a Jew. It's part of who I am. It's my background. I think Jews have a right to be secular and to embrace the world. And the aspect of Judaism that appeals to me is the Judaism that produced Einstein, and Karl Marx, and people who ask questions, and challenge, and test it, and so on.
Many other Jews have a different emphasis in terms of what the Judaism means to them. Since I was a child I would go to Seders-- my auntie Rosie's place, and all the cousins and uncles and aunties would get together, and I enjoyed it. It's part of a, kind of a family, a cultural thing. And if I'm in Cape Town I'll go to my cousin Benny, and his daughter happens to be my assistant, and I enjoy it. I look forward to it.
I remember once I was in San Francisco and I went to a Seder, and there, the Haggadah was being passed around, and everybody read a little bit. And I was terrified I'd have to read the bit about smiting the firstborn. That would have been too much for me. And it's one of those choices that you dread having to make-- defying the culture that you're in. But I couldn't. I couldn't support this idea of a plague that was somehow being-- smiting your enemies that were somehow being glorified. And it was kind of horrific for me.
But now when I go to a Seder, I'm called upon to sing. [SINGING] "Let my people go." [END SINGING] And that's my contribution. It happens to be Paul Robeson and it's my way of reconciling all the different aspects of my history and personality.
What advice would I give to the young generation? It's a conundrum. I don't if you like conundrums or conundra. The advice I would give to you is not to listen to the advice of old people like me. And that's a conundrum, because if you listen to my advice, you won't listen to my advice, which means you will listen to my advice, which means you won't listen to my advice, and that can go on forever.
But what I'm really getting at is we were pretty cheeky in our generation, challenging. We did listen to older people. We loved hearing their stories. We admired them enormously. But it was so important we made up our minds. We did it for ourselves. Because we believed. We were searching and finding our way, and we wanted the right to define the kinds of commitments we made in the way that we felt was right for ourselves, so we did it with our peers.
And I look back with a lot of affection on the young idealistic LB, with the young idealistic Amy and George, and with all the others. And that's all I can offer to you really. It's not a prescription and don't look for prescriptions. I don't like the idea of role models. There's only one role model that counts, that's yourself. It's discovering the things inside yourself that are the strongest, that are the most effective, the most beautiful, the most ingenious, or the most curious.
Rather than say, oh, I wish I could be like Mandela, you're not going to be like Mandela. And you're defeated before you even begin because you're trying to model yourself on some kind of abstract prototype. Forget about it. Go for the energy, the vitality, the curiosity, the questioning that we went for, do it for your generation. And you enter into dialogue with us, and discuss with us, and maybe get information from us about how we did things and faced things.
But I don't think you should invite us to advise you on how to go. The only advice is a very abstract general advice is, people say follow your dreams. I turn that around. Follow your life and your dreams will follow you. That's all I can offer.
I don't think I was individually put on a terrorist list-- that would be aggrandizing myself beyond what history would justify. But I was automatically on the list of excluded people because I belonged to the ANC, which was classified as a terrorist organization. And that was a big victory for apartheid South Africa. And it had a lot to do with the Cold War. They played on that so heavily.
Everybody abhorred apartheid. Mrs. Thatcher abhorred apartheid, but she called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. I said you can't speak to terrorists. So it became the shorthand mechanism for avoiding facing up to the actual substance of the issues. Some people feel that somehow we made the breakthrough in South Africa because of the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the ANC adopted new policies because they saw the collapse of communism.
The Wall fell in '89. I was blown up in '88. We had this meeting earlier on in '88 about the Bill of Rights. It had nothing to do with the Berlin Wall. Perestroika was helpful because it undermined the rigidity of some people in our ranks who were very formulaic in their thinking and the explanations. It opened up. In that sense, Gorbachev helped us because he encouraged a row for intellectuals, for thinking, for questioning. That was kind of useful, but that wasn't the reason. The reasons were internal, the way we saw, envisaged our freedom.
In any event, I came to the States for the first time in 1974, and I still remember queuing up at the American Embassy, which I got to know very well from the outside, because when I arrived in London I got to know the streets of London through marching from Hyde Park corner to the American Embassy to protest against British collusion in the Vietnam War.
But now I'm actually going into the embassy and feeling very kind of strange. And I see queuing up in the line next to me is Oliver Tambo. He's also queuing up to go for the first time. We were allowed to go to the UN, that was all. But then you had to stay within the radius of-- I think it's 10 or 15 or 20 kilometers.
And I remember once going with a friend of mine who's under this restriction, he's allowed to testify at the UN, and we wanted to visit Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, yes. And they lived 25 miles out, and it was so odd to feel we're breaking the law to go and visit this marvelous couple. So I think there were battles going on inside the administration in the US.
I still remember in Maputo in 1985, somebody from the American Embassy coming to speak to me, and he was-- so it must have been-- was it been Ronald Reagan? And was Schultz the Secretary of State then or Assistant Secretary. I think he was. And what was interesting first of all, until then, academics had been appointed, the persons responsible for Africa. But this guy was a risk analyst. And his whole experience was in insurance, and he was doing risk analysis of an explosion in Southern Africa.
Any event, he came to see me and he was very tentative about speaking to me. And he said the British Ambassador had told him that I was the person in the ANC to speak to. So even Americans don't like hiding behind the British Ambassador, but he felt that he had to pave the way.
So I was curious, and he spoke to me, and chatted a little bit about the Nkomati Accord, which didn't go down very well in ANC circles. And then he said the real reason why he'd come to see him. He said, "What do you have to do if you want to speak to the ANC?" I laughed. I said, "You have to open your mouth and allow air to pass over your vocal cords." [LAUGHTER]
I don't know what they thought. They obviously didn't know. They hadn't done their risk analysis of Oliver Tambo. And they would have known he's the most courteous, diplomatic person, who believed in listening and hearing. And I said, "I'm sure it will be very well received." I said, "I don't have authority to make any connections, but I have absolutely no doubt that if an overture was made by the State Department, just in terms of a conversation, it would be very positively received." And so it came to pass. So that was 1986-- '85, '86 already. And I visited the States almost every year after that.
I had to for a long time get a clearance from the CIA in Rome, or now have you ever been and I had been, and that took a long, long time. And eventually, I was struck off that list, which was separate from the terrorism list. It was another kind of a list. Now I have a J-1 to visit the University of Cornell. Hurray! [LAUGHTER]
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Time for maybe one or two more questions? Yes. And speak up.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Sachs, I would like to hear your thoughts on forgiveness. I wondered if you think that reconciliation is the same thing as forgiveness. And I was curious, hearing your story about Henry, I assume that he went home and cried for two weeks because he felt forgiven. I wondered if you forgave him then, or if it's possible to forgive him, or it was at some other time you forgave him. I'd like to hear [INAUDIBLE].
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: And the last question, yes. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: As one of the original members of the ANC, [INAUDIBLE]
ALBIE SACHS: Sorry, I can't hear you.
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: Louder.
AUDIENCE: As one of the original members of the ANC, I'm curious to know your opinion on the direction of the party [INAUDIBLE].
ALBIE SACHS: Let me deal with that first. The ANC is 100 years old. So [LAUGHTER] I'm not one of the original members. But I've been connected with it since the 1950s, and it's been very wonderful. And I often think about it. What gives it it special quality? And I want to say it's not the only organization that fought for freedom. There were many other different groups and individuals and people in different ways. But I speak about it because that's where I was. That's the bit that I know. And no one can deny they played a very significant role.
We did create something new out of things that old. My background-- my parents coming, my mother is a baby, my father's a young child, fleeing from the pogroms and the persecution of Jews in Lithuania. The Cossacks coming every Easter saying Jesus killed Christ, we're going to kill the Jews. And people hiding in basements and fleeing to the forest-- they wouldn't be killed.
But bringing with them not simply the idea of escaping from persecution, but ideas of justice, of freedom for humanity, and very, very powerful emancipatory ideas many, many of them had. And my dad was a trade union leader, my mother worked for Moses Kotane. He was a very prominent African leader for-- revolutionary leader, really, in South Africa.
So that was my internationalism with traditions of picking up on resistance movements, the partisans during World War II where many of our heroes identified with them. And a whole structure of thinking and seeing your role, not to get power, not to be important, not to end up being this, that, or the other. But fighting for the liberation of humanity in a rather abstract way, but in very concrete circumstances.
Other people in the organization very strongly influenced by the church. And Christianity, which at first was seen as an invasion that was telling the people you are backward and superstitious and you must banish your heathen thoughts and absorb. But now seeing Christianity had a revolutionary theme of equality for all, the Sermon on the Mount, the idea of the meek inheriting the world. Powerful themes. And Christianity being the place where people on Sundays would put on these suits and their dresses and feel, however humiliated they were during the week, I am somebody when I go to church. I mean something, and that sense of connection is there.
And that played a very important role, and we all sang "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika," and that became the hymn of the ANC, of the oppressed. Then we had Gandhi-- Gandhi was in South Africa. Gandhi arrived, a rather dandy-type lawyer, who'd learned French and taken dancing lessons in London to be a barrister. And progressively involved in the struggle of people Indian descent to have the humanity respected.
And he ended up the Gandhi we know, simply dressed, cutting his own hair, completely transformed, and leading the passive-resistant struggles. Also that idea you're doing it not for yourself for your advancement, not out of anger, but to transform society. A very powerful element.
We had this British radicalism, the chartist movement, part of our culture coming through a little bit into the legal system itself. Put all these elements together, and to my mind, the key ingredient was ubuntu. It's an African concept, I'm a person because you're a person. I can't separate my humanity from acknowledgement of your humanity.
And it's not like a fruit salad of all these different things. It's kind of an amalgam that emerged in practice with the, if you like, some of the discipline, and the structure, and the universalizing in time and history of the thinking that my parents had and passed on to me. But that could be very dour and inward, and schematic, and at times, even brutal in its application.
With the African humanism and humanity, with the positive elements that religion brought for people who were believers-- enormously important for them. With the soul force of Gandhi, it's all kind of emerged in our movement. I often say, and let me say it again today, it came through in our music. Our jazz musicians wrote our constitution in music long before we lawyers wrote it in words.
It was something that came through in South Africa. It's reflected in Mandela. It's reflected in Albert Luthuli. It's reflected in Desmond Tutu. It's not an accident. It's not just a couple of genes that happen to hit on these bodies. It's something in our culture, and a culture that emerged from the infusion of all these different elements.
How do I see things going today? It's a similar answer to the answer that I gave.
I think we've made a huge breakthrough and achievement for our country, and for humanity. We showed what's possible. And it's in our constitution. Our president steps down after two terms maximum. Not 39 years, 33 years, 42 years. Two terms maximum. In fact, the average lifespan of our presidents has been four years. Mandela left after five years. Thabo Mbeki was removed through a democratic vote inside his own party, not through a coup, not through millions of people going into the streets followed by a coup. Through democratic vote.
We have elections that observers come from all over the world to see, not to find if they're free and fair. What lessons can we take from South Africa to show to other countries about how, in circumstances where you don't have huge resources, to have democratic elections. We have a very vibrant press and strong investigative journalists. And if there are any threats to the press, you'll know within seconds because the press will tell you. And it's good that they do that.
We have a strong judiciary. You might agree or disagree with this judgment or that, or minority-majority positions, but it stands firm. It speaks out. It speaks out against government, against Parliament, against the president when necessary.
So these are the permanent features of, I think deeply entrenched in South Africa, we want our freedom. We want our sense of constitutional rights. We haven't won our personal security. There's far too much crime in the country. We haven't won our economic security for everybody. Maybe half the population are poor, and of them, half are desperately poor. We haven't won the levels of integrity that we feel we can't demand from everybody in government, in business, wherever it might be. We haven't won that at all.
But we do have the mechanisms for dealing with those things. And to me, that's the permanent thing. That's the great achievement. And so people like the questioner, like yourself in South Africa can stand up and ask those questions. I don't know if I'm hiding behind or I'm compelled to say as a former judge, it wouldn't be correct for me to comment on the political situation as such, or on the ANC as such.
I left the ANC when I wanted to make myself available to become a judge. I follow what's going on. I'm interested in what's going on in the country. I make up my mind. My vote is my secret who I'll vote for when it comes to that. But I can, as a former judge and as somebody who spent a life in the struggle, I can say mission accomplished as far as the constitutional transformation is concerned. And it's not just a piece of paper. The constitution doesn't build the schools, it doesn't provide the jobs, we have mass unemployment which is the source of so many other problems. It doesn't provide the health facilities which in some areas have degraded, been degraded since the new transformation came about.
It doesn't build the homes, but it gives us the mechanisms to debate these issues, to campaign for these issues to feel that we're free. That's my short answer. [LAUGHTER] It's lucky there isn't time for the long answer.
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: A word about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
ALBIE SACHS: Oh, yes. Sorry, I was saving up for the-- yes, that was meant to be a shorter answer to you so that I could speak about--
I don't feel that I've forgiven Henry. I don't feel angry with Henry. I don't see the relationship as one of offended and forgiveness. For Desmond Tutu, that was very important. In the confessional world view, it's a kind of crime against you, and you forgive the trespasser who's trespassed against you. I don't see it like that. He was on that side. He was part of that formation. He was imbued with that ideology and outlook he felt he was defending-- loyally defending his government, his state.
To me what matters is he's moved forward. A, he's acknowledged what he did. Why did he go home and cry? I'm speculating. I think he cried because he felt this was the man I tried to kill and he's not angry with me. He's a decent human being, he's got humanity, he's willing to shake my hand.
I think that overwhelmed him emotionally and spiritually. And he needed to cry it out. He was crying for his past, he was crying for his beliefs, he was crying for the way he loyally carried out commands. That was the way they did things then. I think it was more than a cathartic, it was a chrysalis moment, if you like, in his life. I think that's why.
I remember being at a jazz club in Cape Town. It was called Rosie's and All That Jazz, or we left it coming back from exile, and hearing our music, and the crowd would be thick, and terrific music, and the energy. And a white guy comes up to me and he says in Afrikaans that he's the owner, part owner of that club, "vergewe my," forgive me.
And I want to answer him in Afrikaans, but I've forgotten Afrikaans. I've been in exile for a long time. I've learned Portuguese. So I'm answering him in a mixture of Afrikaans, some Portuguese, and English. But I'm saying, it's not for me to forgive you. This club is your forgiveness. It's what you're doing here.
And he went away and he wasn't satisfied. He sat down, I sat down, we looked at each other. And I felt afterwards maybe I should have just embraced him. Not said anything. But I really didn't feel-- I said, if you want forgiveness, don't ask forgiveness from me, ask forgiveness from the poor people who haven't been acknowledged, who suffered so much. Go to them. I'm feeling joyous, triumphant, it's fantastic. Our ideas are now becoming the ideas of the country. Don't ask me for forgiveness. Ask for forgiveness for the unemployed person, maybe. Maybe something like that.
But you know sometimes you complicate things too much, and I think looking back, just a simple hug would have been easier. But I remembered on that occasion feeling I'm not in the land of trespass and forgiveness. That's just not the way I see it. It's the land of human possibility, of transformation. He must find his own resources to do that. It doesn't lie with me to say it's OK. It's not OK what he did anyhow. But what was important, he went to the Truth Commission. He became part of the new South Africa. And I felt a little bit liberated by that myself.
Instead of the person who had tried to kill me being part of the enemy, an abstract thing-- you never know where the enemy might strike again, a malign world out there. Suddenly it was Henry kind of OK, he's even a little bit shorter than me. I felt a little bit humanized myself. I benefited from that interaction. It wasn't just a one way act of forgiveness on my part, even if I had believed in forgiveness.
I hope that's coming through. It's not hostility to forgiveness. We had some fantastic scenes where African women who lost their children listened to the testimony of an African cop who had trapped them and helped to mow them down, and they shouted at him-- it's in a film, a very beautiful film called Long Night's Journey into Day, and you see it on film. And they shouted at him and shouted-- and I knew what would happen. They were shouting at him because they wanted to forgive him, but they had to shout first. And he bent his head and he had to accept the fact that they were shouting at him.
Shouting, shouting-- seven mothers shouting, shouting, shouting. And he bent his head, and they one by one they came up and said, I forgive you, my son. It was so moving, it was so beautiful. And that belonged to their culture as Africans, maybe as religious people. They had to go through that kind of process.
Me, I belong to that other weird world where we believe we're fighting the system, we've got to change the system. And it's far less personal and subjective than the way you put the question.
FREDERIK LOGEVALL: I think we can all see why Professor Sachs was such a magnificent choice, selection, as this year's A.D. White Professor.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
Behind what is regarded as the 'Mandela Miracle' are the struggles inside the Liberation Movement not to use terrorism or torture: the result is one of the world's greatest constitutions, and it works.
Writer, lawyer, anti-apartheid activist and former South African Constitutional Court justice Albert "Albie" Sachs gave his first lecture as an A.D. White Professor-at-Large, August 29, 2013.
Sachs' lecture was part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies' Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.