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Solomon’s Son

Half a century ago, Albie Sachs sat defiantly on a bench designated “for non-whites only.” Today he sits on South Africa’s highest court.

Hugh Levinson
April 24, 2007
Albie Sachs, 2010.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Albie Sachs, 2010.(Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

From the age of 17, when he participated in his first anti-apartheid protest, Albie Sachs has made himself a thorn in the side of the South African government. He became an activist, a civil rights lawyer defending victims of racist and repressive laws, and an advisor to leaders of South Africa’s main opposition party, the African National Congress, helping them formulate a constitution they hoped would someday become the law of the land. In 1997 it did, and Sachs is now serving his 13th year as a justice on the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest.

On a recent trip to Johannesburg, London-based reporter Hugh Levinson visited with Sachs to talk about his upbringing (as the son of immigrants from Lithuania), his time in solitary confinement (during which he was allowed one book: the Bible), and his encounters with Henry, the South African security policeman who was ordered to assassinate Sachs in 1988—and very nearly succeeded.

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Abigail Miller is Tablet Magazine’s art director.