was a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa
The Constitutional Court of South Africa was established in 1994 by South Africa's first democratic constitution: the Interim Constitution of 1993. In terms of the 1996 Constitution the Constitutional Court established in 1994 continues to hold office. The court began its first sessions in February...
. He was appointed to the court by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing...
in 1994 and retired in October 2009. Justice Sachs gained international attention in 2005 as the author of the Court's holding in the case of Minister of Home Affairs v Fourie
, in which the Court overthrew South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...
's statute defining marriage to be between one man and one woman as a violation of the Constitution's general mandate for equal protection for all and its specific mandate against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Justice Sachs is also recognized for the development of the differentiation between constitutional rights in three different degrees or generations of rights.
Sachs was born into a South African Jewish family of Lithuanian background. His career in human rights activism started at the age of seventeen, when as a second year law student at the University of Cape Town, he took part in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. Three years later, in 1955, he attended the Congress of the People
The Congress of the People met in Kliptown, Soweto, Johannesburg on June 26, 1955 to lay out the vision of the South African people. The Freedom Charter was the core statement of principles of the Congress Alliance, consisting of the African National Congress , the South African Indian Congress,...
Kliptown is a suburb of the formerly black township of Soweto in Gauteng, South Africa, located about 17 km south-west of Johannesburg. The population of Kliptown is between 38,000 and 45,000 . Kliptown is the oldest residential district of Soweto, and was first laid out in 1891 on land which...
where the Freedom Charter
The Freedom Charter was the statement of core principles of the South African Congress Alliance, which consisted of the African National Congress and its allies - the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People's Congress...
He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Town Bar aged of twenty one, where he defended people charged under racial statutes and security laws under South African Apartheid. Sachs has a law degree from the University of Cape Town and a PhD from Sussex University
The University of Sussex is an English public research university situated next to the East Sussex village of Falmer, within the city of Brighton and Hove. The University received its Royal Charter in August 1961....
Imprisonment and exile
After being arrested and placed in solitary confinement for his work in the freedom movement, Albie Sachs went into exile in England and then Mozambique. In 1988, in Maputo, Mozambique, he lost an arm and his sight in one eye when a bomb was placed in his car by South African security agents. After the bombing, he devoted himself to the preparations for a new democratic constitution for South Africa. He returned to South Africa and served as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the African National Congress.
Awards and writings
In 1991 he won the Alan Paton Award
The Alan Paton Award is a South African literary award that been conferred annually since 1989 for meritorious works of non-fiction. Sponsored by the Johannesburg weekly the Sunday Times, recipients represent the cream of contemporary South African writers who produce works that are judged to...
for his book Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter
. The book chronicles his response to the 1988 car bombing. A revised, updated and expanded edition was released in October 2011. He is also the author of Justice in South Africa
(1974), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs
(1966), Sexism and the Law
(1979), and The Free Diary of Albie Sachs
(2004). His most recent book, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law
(2009), also won the Alan Paton Award, making him the second person to have won it twice. The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs
was dramatized for television and broadcast by the BBC in the late 1970s .
He helped select the art collection at Constitution Hill
The Constitution Hill precinct, located at the western end of the suburb Hillbrow in Johannesburg, is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The first court session in the new building at this location was held in February 2004.-History:...
, the seat of the Constitutional Court.
In 2006 his alma mater
the University of Cape Town
The University of Cape Town is a public research university located in Cape Town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. UCT was founded in 1829 as the South African College, and is the oldest university in South Africa and the second oldest extant university in Africa.-History:The roots of...
awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Law. On 8 July 2008 Sachs was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree by the University of Ulster
The University of Ulster is a multi-campus, co-educational university located in Northern Ireland. It is the largest single university in Ireland, discounting the federal National University of Ireland...
in recognition of his contribution to human rights and justice globally.
In 2009 Sachs received the Academy of Achievement Golden Plate Award
The Academy of Achievement is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization founded in 1961 by photographer Hy Peskin. He established the Academy of Achievement to bring aspiring young people together with accomplished people...
On 16 July 2010 Sachs was further awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of the University of York for his contribution to the construction of post-apartheid South Africa, in particular for his involvement in the creation of the South African constitution. This constitution is widely regarded as being the most progressive in the world.
In all, Sachs has 14 honorary degrees across four continents .