On turning six, during World War II, Albie Sachs received a card from his father expressing the wish that he would grow up to be a soldier in the fight for liberation. 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 he attended the Congress of the People at Kliptown where the Freedom Charter was adopted. He started practice as an advocate at the Cape Bar aged 21. The bulk of his work involved defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws. Many faced the death sentence. He himself was raided by the security police, subjected to banning orders restricting his movement and eventually placed in solitary confinement without trial for two prolonged spells of detention.
In 1966 he went into exile. After spending eleven years studying and teaching law in England he worked for a further eleven years in Mozambique as law professor and legal researcher. In 1988 he was blown up by a bomb placed in his car in Maputo by South African security agents, losing an arm and the sight of an eye.During the 1980s working closely with Oliver Tambo, leader of the ANC in exile, he helped draft the organisation’s Code of Conduct, as well as its statutes. After recovering from the bomb he devoted himself full-time to preparations for a new democratic Constitution for South Africa. In 1990 he returned home and as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the ANC took an active part in the negotiations which led to South Africa becoming a constitutional democracy. After the first democratic election in 1994 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the newly established Constitutional Court.
In addition to his work on the Court, he has travelled to many countries sharing South African experience in healing divided societies. He has also been engaged in the sphere of art and architecture, and played an active role in the development of the Constitutional Court building and its art collection on the site of the Old Fort Prison in Johannesburg.
Sachs holds a BA and LLB from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD from the University of Sussex. He holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aberdeen, Antwerp, Cape Town, Dundee, Edinburgh, London, New South Wales, Princeton, Southampton, Southern California, Strathclyde, Sussex, Ulster, Universidade Politécnica – Maputo, York (Ontario), York (UK), Western Cape, and the William Mitchell College of Law.
Sachs has published many books including The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (Collins), Stephanie on Trial (Harvil Press), both of which were dramatized by David Edgar for the Royal Shakespeare Company and filmed for the BBC. Sachs other titles include Justice in South Africa (Heineman, Sussex University Press and University of California Press), Sexism and the Law (Free Press), Liberating the Law, Liberating the People (with Gita Honwana Welch) (Zed Press), Island in Chains (with Indres Naidoo) (Penguin Books and Random House), The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter (Harper-Collins; University of California Press), Protecting Human Rights in a new South Africa (Oxford University Press), Advancing Human Rights in South Africa (Oxford University Press), The Free Diary of Albie Sachs (with Vanessa September) (Random House), and The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (Oxford University Press).