Sunday, May 11, 2008

Albie Sachs, SA's top justice an ordinary man

TORONTO, ON, Canada (The Southern - As a student of the history of the struggle for majority rule and democracy in southern Africa, one name I came across regularly in texts and lectures was that of Albie Sachs.

Reading and hearing about him, I pictured a fiery giant, both in stature and demeanor. A domineering figure who birthed modern South Africa’s constitution and is its custodian in the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Like Nelson Mandela and other important men and women of the struggle, I looked forward to the day I would meet him.

That day was Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 24 floors up a trendy legal office building in downtown Toronto. The occasion was a special reception organized by the Canada-South Africa Chamber of Business and the University of Cape Town Foundation, to flaunt him to Toronto-based members and well-wishers.

In sauntered a very ordinary man in a blue “Mandela shirt”. I only realised it was him when I saw how everybody farced over him.

But like all great people, Albie Sachs is just an ordinary man. No, there wasn’t any of the learned pompousness associated with legal minds. Absent, was the self-importance of a judge as he posed for pictures with everyone (including me) who wanted and, at one point, sat alone in a corner just observing his soon to be audience make rounds between the coffee and snack tables and, of course, the wine bar.

When he stood up to speak about "Every Judgement I Write is a Lie", his latest book, the authority of a Justice came out and so did the defiance of a freedom fighter.

His stumpie arm (cut off in a bomb attack in the 1980s) pointing menacingly at his audience, Justice Sachs spoke about how decisions made by judges are made by people. There are rules to follow but there are also personal considerations that may not be declared openly but may, nevertheless, come out in the judgement.

“Every Judgement I Write is a Lie” – is, of course, tongue in cheek, or is it?