Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 29, 2015

Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa

Filed under: Film,human rights,South Africa — louisproyect @ 9:11 pm

On Sunday evening the Peabody Award will be presented to Abby Ginzberg for her documentary on Albie Sachs titled “Soft Vengeance”, a film based on his 2011 memoir of the same title. After having watched the film, I can recommend it without any hesitation despite the tendency to skirt over South Africa’s current troubles that some analysts on the left have described as economic apartheid.

Born into a Jewish and Communist family in 1935, Sachs became an activist at an early age. When he was seventeen he took part in an act of civil disobedience by sitting in the “Blacks only” section of a train station. Although prepared to be arrested and jailed, he was sent home because of his youth.

After getting trained as a constitutional lawyer, Sachs became one of the ANC’s chief legal representatives. The apartheid regime, as is the case with dictatorships everywhere, saw such lawyers as being as dangerous or even more dangerous than guerrilla fighters. In 1963 he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for 90 days, a punishment that broke his spirit to the extent that self-exile to Britain was the only way he could regain the spirit he needed to move forward again as an ANC activist.

Despite the prestigious academic career he was pursuing, he never felt at home in Britain and yearned to return home to Africa. On the suggestion of the ANC, he relocated to Mozambique shortly after its independence and plunged himself into drafting laws for the newly liberated state and continuing to provide legal advice to the ANC.

In 1988, as he opened the door of his car to take a trip to the beach, a bomb went off and cost him his right arm and the sight in his left eye. This was around the time that the South African government was embarked on a reign of terror that would cost the life of ANC leader Ruth Furst from a parcel bomb in Mozambique as well. Furst’s parents, like Sachs’s, were Jews and Communists.

The film is focused on Sachs’s life and career with a special emphasis on his efforts to foster a respect for constitutional rights in the new South Africa. He served as a Supreme Court justice in post-apartheid South Africa and helped to assemble the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that some critics fault for its overly generous concessions to the white war criminals and torturers. Sachs insists that South Africa would have been torn apart if vengeance had been sought. If the question is open to debate, it is very much hearing Sachs make the case since he is an eloquent defender of his views and obviously someone who knows from firsthand experience the costs of living in a lawless state.

When I receive word about the film’s screening to the general public, I will update you.


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