On January 22, 2019, the African Studies Center (ASC) was honored to have Albie Sachs, former Constitutional Court Judge of South Africa, freedom fighter and cultural visionary, present a film he made on the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. After the film he spoke to the culture of democratic law, of which the Constitutional Court Building is iconic. Sachs had been the presiding impresario of the court as well as among the cadre of inaugural judges for the court, appointed by then State President Nelson Mandela. His journey from jailed activist to judge did not come easily. In 1988 he was nearly killed when a bomb was placed in his car in Maputo by the Apartheid Security Force.
This court reflects his vision of the intersection of law, culture and democracy in a country now, for the first time open to the diversity of citizens (during Apartheid there were separate courts for persons of color). Sachs' vision of democratic inclusiveness has played an important role in the creation of a democratic South African culture. In 1990 he presented (through an emissary) to an in-house meeting of the African National Congress a document called “preparing ourselves for freedom”. The ANC was in the process of being unbanned, and about to begin its three tumultuous years of negotiation with the National Party, inaugurating the new democracy. Sachs' paper aimed to change the organization’s ideological thinking about culture. Rejecting the struggle conception of art as a weapon, Albie Sachs called for, called forth, an inclusive new culture reaching across lines of social division, vivified by cross-pollination, aiming to discover or create as yet undiscovered forms of likeness and shared belonging across South African populations, while also giving voice to a diversity of heritages.
This notion of democratic inclusiveness, whether in culture or law, is a Judge Sachs trademark. He penned important decisions on the Death Penalty, Discrimination and other important constitutional issues during his tenure on the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and explored the intersections of culture and law in his award-winning 2009 book, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law. The book was the second of his works to win the Alan Paton Literary Prize.
Sachs also spoke to his current project, a museum and archive of and for the court. The University of Michigan's own faculty member David Wallace is integral to the archival element of that project. Meetings took place around the question of Michigan's deepening involvement in it.