Oliver Tambo’s quiet revolution within reach, says Albie Sachs

  • Albie
It was not the Constitution that stood in the way of land reform but fundamental policy failures, said former Constitutional Court Judge and ANC stalwart Albie Sachs at the Jewish Literary Festival. “We have to develop policies and completely reconfigure our approach to the matter, and get rid of state capture and the corruption that’s involved.”
by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Jun 21, 2018

In fact, he has pointed out, Section 25 of the Constitution, the property clause, lends itself to the redistribution of land.

Judge Dennis Davis, Acting Judge of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal, was in conversation with Judge Sachs on his latest book, Oliver Tambo’s Dream.

The book comprises four lectures delivered at various universities in celebration of the life of former ANC President Oliver Tambo, who would have been 100 last year. As a trustee of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, Sachs felt it was appropriate for him to celebrate Tambo and the values for which he stood.

“Everyone admired [Nelson] Mandela and [Albert] Luthuli, but we loved Oliver Tambo,” said Sachs, who met Tambo in the early 1950s when Sachs was a 17 year old. “It was a surprise for many because he wasn’t a powerful speaker. He didn’t have a great presence.

“I thought I should try and convey a sense of his qualities that were dreadfully lacking in the country at the time. In the first lecture, I referred to him as the quiet, gentle revolutionary. He could be softly-spoken, and was caring about the details of others’ lives.”

Stating that “We talk great plans, but we don’t get there”, Judge Davis asked Judge Sachs why he was so confident that the land issue would be resolved. “The issue has been put on the table,” Sachs replied. “The government has acknowledged it as the original sin, and we have a president who’s a great strategist and gets everyone into the conversation.”

Judge Davis pointed out Judge Sachs’ admission in the book that when black people had spoken about land in earlier days, he hadn’t seen it as a priority. “Twenty-four years into democracy, white people still don’t see it,” Davis commented.

Explaining his optimism, Sachs said: “Our institutions are strong. Having people like you on the bench and playing an important role in public life, not taking anything for granted, there are lots of Dennises around.

“South Africans speak their mind – these all give me a sense we can get there.”

Judge Davis commented that while many institutions such as the legislature, the executive, the National Prosecuting Authority, and South African Revenue Service had failed, the judiciary had succeeded. Paying tribute to his “wonderful” black colleagues, he said it had turned out to be “the best judiciary we’ve ever had”.

“The judiciary had to do a lot of the heavy lifting. I wonder if we’ve got the balance wrong – too much of a ‘juristocracy’ and too little of a democracy,” he pondered.

Sachs replied: “You were right when you advocated for the judiciary having more of a role many years ago. What is remarkable is that the judiciary has reminded Parliament of its work.

“The Judicial Services Commission has ensured that we have a pretty good series of judges,” he said.

“We sometimes place too much faith in what judges can do,” Davis countered. “It is sad,” Judge Sachs agreed, “because it shouldn’t all fall on the judges.”

In answer to a question why certain individuals were not yet behind bars, Judge Sachs replied: “Because we have the rule of law. You don’t want to destroy the legal system to get quick results to satisfy people such as yourselves.”

Asked what Tambo’s attitude towards Israel would be if he were president, Judge Sachs said he would have felt “very strongly against” the occupation of land as being “very unjust to the Palestinians. He would have been in favour of maximum negotiations”.

He would have advocated establishing the anxieties and fears of the people concerned, and presenting a vision that they could be comfortable with, he surmised.

“He saw whites as human beings trapped in a system of racism with his goal being to establish a country for all. He would bring to bear those values into that system,” Sachs said of the situation in the Middle East.


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