If President Nelson Mandela is the father of the democratic Republic of South Africa, Justice Albie Sachs is undoubtedly the father of its Constitution. Years before the totalitarian and racist regime of the apartheid was forced to allow negotiations with a view to accepting a constitutional regime in the country, Albie Sachs was already conducting studies and understandings for a framework of the Lex Maior of South Africa. Symbolically, the site of the new Constitutional Court of South Africa was chosen to be the former grounds of the infamous Old Fort prison, where both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were incarcerated.
Justice Albie Sachs started his political activities as a freedom fighter during his student years, in the 1950s, as a cadre of the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC, as we all know, is this formidable political party that against all odds, but for the power of its belief in Justice, knew how to lead the South African people from the irons of oppression to liberty. He started his career as a lawyer in 1957, working mainly with civil rights cases, as a result of what he was incarcerated twice without trial. In exile, he lived in the United Kingdom, where he obtained a PHD in law and taught at the University of Southampton. Having moved to Maputo, in Mozambique, Albie Sachs was the victim of a car bomb attempt against his life, which left him very seriously injured. In 1993, he returned to South Africa to lead the negotiations for a democratic Constitution, adopted in that same year. In 1994, President Mandela appointed Albie Sachs a justice of the Constitutional Court.
Having learned the very hard way that norms of law and the legal professions can be used for the oppression, Albie Sachs fought and, in the end prevailed so that, in his beloved country, they could serve as an instrument of Justice. In the building of the South African Constitutional Court there is a plaque with a saying that epitomises his life: “Let justice be administered in this Court without fear, favour or prejudice.” Accordingly, the Constitution of South Africa is a paradigm for affirmative action of all levels of society, including government. The Lex Maior has thus guided South Africa`s democratic government in the formidable task of promoting social inclusion after the sombre period of tyrannical and racist exclusion.
I only first learned of Albie Sachs in 1991, when he was already conducting exercises for a democratic constitution for South Africa. Thus, since my first visit to this country for President Mandela`s inauguration in 1994 and my numerous returns since, I have entertained the desire of meeting the man whose entire life has been dedicated, directly or indirectly, to the noblest of causes, that of human rights. It has never been possible. Thus, it is with mixed joy and sadness that I write these lines in the United Kingdom. Joy because our law firm, Noronha Advogados, is receiving a man of such stature in its dining hall, aptly named President Mandela`s Hall, and sadness because previous professional commitments have imposed my presence in London on this date.
I am sure, Ladies and Gentleman, that you will never forget this memorable occasion. I am honoured to introduce to you Justice Albie Sachs, of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa.
Lawyer admitted in Brazil, England and Wales and Portugal. GATT and WTO panelist. Brazilian government ad-hoc representative for the Uruguay Round of the GATT. Post-graduation professor of the law of international trade.