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Albie Sachs Delivers OR Tambo Memorial Lecture

Former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs encourages UWC students to learn from the past

Former Judge Albie Sachs encourages youth to learn from the past - and in particular the negotiation process that took place at the dawn of democracy in South Africa, and the example set by such leaders as the legendary Oliver Tambo.

Judge Albie Sachs  was speaking at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), delivering a lecture on The Constitution: the negotiation processes that led to South Africa’s first great act of decolonisation - the third of four OR Tambo Memorial Lectures.

This year (2017) marks 100 years since the birth of Oliver Reginald Tambo, on 27 October 1917, in Nkantolo, Eastern Cape., the Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation has sponsored a series of talks to celebrate the many dimensions of Tambo’s life, and the crucial role he played in the history of South Africa.

Tambo, a lawyer by profession, was a strong proponent of an inclusive African Nationalism as a force for liberation. He was gentle and generous in style, principled and thoughtful in manner. A democrat to his core and deeply influenced by his Christian beliefs, his leadership was characterised by total integrity, and his teachings and example continue to inspire and guide today.

UWC Institutional Planner, Larry Pokpas, who opened the lecture on behalf of Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, said it was a wonderful occasion to see many old friends and colleagues in attendance, and to acknowledge the life of a man who had done so much to improve the lives of others.

“We are honoured to host Former Judge Albie Sachs, who will pay tribute to the life of O.R. Tambo, and honour his contribution in shaping the new South Africa,” Pokpas said.

Judge Sachs was involved for several decades in the anti-apartheid movement, during which he developed an admiration for and close friendship with Tambo. He was appointed by former president Nelson Mandela as South Africa's first Constitutional Court judge in 1994, and during 15 years of service, he contributed to ground-breaking legal decisions such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Africa.

Judge Sachs started his lecture, hosted by UWC’s Dullah Omar Institute, by honouring the role UWC played in the struggle against Apartheid - and especially its role as “one of only two institutions that played the biggest role in drafting the new Constitution and in bringing peace to our land”.

Sachs hailed the Constitution as “the first great act of decolonisation”, a document that opened the door for transformation and that has allowed the country to make great strides, despite many challenges and setbacks.

“The Constitution opened the door for transformation, for change,” he noted. “After that it is about [political] will, leadership, vision and the sensibility to work with others to bring about change.”

Learning from the past; looking to the future

Sachs noted that university communities can learn from the issues and crises that threatened to derail the negotiation processes at the time, and the way they were handled by leaders who knew they had to manage a difficult transition.

“From the value of deep consultative engagements to achieving consensus in our universities today, we are facing current challenges of equitable and affordable issues of access, issues of transformation and decolonisation,” he said.

“We need to build on the successes of the past - and not only focus on the negatives, but build on these achievements,” he added. “We brought down Apartheid, and for people to say that nothing has changed, they have no idea what those years were like - we are living in a completely different country.”

Sachs concluded his speech by talking about the Fees Must Fall protests from 2015-2017.

“I spoke at UCT earlier this year, to about 200 young students - and when I looked at them I saw 200 young Sachs’es,” he said.  “This new energy should build on the past of O.R. Tambo and others: their spirit, their values, their style of work and honesty - these qualities are what we need to build a successful future.”


“I can only speak for my generation, for our idealism, for what we did. The younger generation has everything they need for transformation in the Constitution, and in their spirit. Every country needs that. Our country seriously needs that now.”