Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles [ Silence ] >> Welcome to the UCL Bloomsbury Theatre this evening for a most special lecture. It's my enormous pleasure to be able to introduce to you one of the world's most renowned judges, a judge renowned not just for judging, for that is what judges do, but for a depth of humanity and vision, this is unusual amongst the judiciary of the 21st century. I should like to add a personal note, I first knew Albie Sachs, not as a judge but as a young law lecturer. We met about 37 years ago. I, in short trousers having arrived from the British Colonies in New Zealand and Albie, as a rather older and wiser man then as now, and somebody who acted as a very significant mentor for those of us who participated with him, I remember, in faculty boards and examiners boards and Albie was the one with the greatest patience. The man who found it unnecessary to fail anybody or to think ill of anybody, even of me, but somebody who brought to our deliberations, even then, a sense of fairness and of justice. In the mid 1970's he was to leave us and to return to Africa, not to the South Africa where, in the 1960's, his enthusiasm for justice had been punished most severely. He was confined to solitary confinement under the 90 day law of the apartheid regime, released and immediately re-confined for a further 90 days. It was an experience that was relayed to the world in his book and subsequently West End play, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. But it was when he returned to Africa, on this occasion to Mozambique, that the apartheid regime struck most cruelly with a car bomb that maimed him severely. Many will recall his account on Desert Island Discs of recovering from that blast and realising that he was still alive and that everything still was ahead of him and that everything still was possible. Fifteen years ago, in the new South Africa, he was appointed to the constitutional court. And those who have visited Johannesburg will see, rising out of the ruins of the old prison, this architectural triumph to justice and to fairness in a new society. He has just after 15 years of service finished his term of office as a judge and he's joined us here tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, please would you join me in welcoming Albie Sachs. [applause] >> The theme of the talk tonight is from refugee to judge of refugee law. And the first time I came as a refugee to the United Kingdom I was smiling on the outside, appeared to be buoyant, on top of the world, free, free at last but inside destroyed in turmoil. Anybody who'd seen me stepping onto the Union-Castle back in Cape Town would have seen somebody writhed in smiles. I don't think I threw streamers, which is what we used to do, down to the people on the dock side. Music was playing. The ship went [noise] as it pulled out. Everybody was cheerful and I appeared to be cheerful along with everybody else. And I did enjoy that trip. I played tenniquoits and was actually run around the Cape Town Castle, from Cape Town to South Hampton in 1966, run around. I played ping pong. I played Bridge. I took part in the fancy dress. I sort of remember I was the spy who came in from the cold blowing my nose. [laughter] I was away from the security police, away from the detention but inside there was something damaged, broken, deeply sore and troubled. And I so recall when I got to London the thing I liked to do most of all was just to go up to Hampstead Heath and lie on the soft grass and look up and see the kites flying. And just that sense of peace, of peace, of being able to go to sleep at night and not feel, will they come? [knocking] Will they come for me? To be able to use the telephone and not feel are they listening in? To be able to open a letter and feel that this was private correspondence. To be able to walk down the street and feel I'm not being followed, to feel that my car has not been tampered with. It was a sense of elation and a sense of happiness of being in the United Kingdom, being in a free country and being a free person. And yet inside there was something deeply troubled, deeply damaged. I'd been detained, as Malcolm said, under the 90 day law without charge, without a right to go to court, without access to council, without access to my family. Locked up in a concrete cube, like thousands of other South Africans and like thousands and tens of thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world. And I would stare at my toes and stare at the wall, at my toes, the wall, my toes, my toes, the wall and try to invent things to keep myself alive and active and to feel I'm a real human being. And I would invent activities. I've tried to count the number of states, the United States in America and I'd start with A and go through the A's, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, I used to call it Arkansas then and through the B's and the C's and I would get up to 40 and 41 but I didn't have a pencil, I couldn't write any of the names down. And I would sing songs. I would start with Always, Because, Charmaine, be quite an interesting profile of the popular hit tunes of 1964 and Always has become almost a theme song of mine. Daisy, I had some problems with X so I would sing Deep in the Heart of Texas. That was the best I could do there. [singing] I'll be living here always, year after year always, in this little cell, that I know so well, I'll be living swell, always, always and I'd waltz around on my own and feel rather amused that Noel Coward, who wasn't known as a great freedom fighter and supporter [background laughter] of evolutionary causes was keeping up my spirits in police fashion near Cape Town. [singing] I'll be staying in always, keeping up my chin always. Not for but an hour, not for but a week, not for 90 days but always. And then I'd sort of waltz around and feel sorry for myself. And try and buoy myself up. And again, as Malcolm said, after 90 days somebody comes to my cell and says, gives me back my tie, gives me back my watch, my shoelaces, put on my clothes that I wore when I was entering my chambers and detained initially. Go down the stairs into the charge office station. Commander says you're free to go and I'm looking at him very, very, very suspiciously. I don't believe anything they say. But just hearing the words you're free to go and I get up and I walk out and before I reach the street the main interrogator comes up to me, big smile on his face, he puts out his hand, I think that's nice. He shakes my hand and says I'm placing you under arrest. Something I think I learned from England you touch the body of the person when you arrest the body. He did it through a handshake. I go back, give up my watch, my tie, my shoelaces, go back into the cell again. The law is being complied with. You can be held for 90 days, released for a few minutes and held for another 90 days. I did hold out on that occasion and when I was released as suddenly as I was detained, I feel absolutely joyous. This was a real release this time and I put on some tennis shoes that I've had and I ran from the centre of Cape Town to the nearest beach, which was about 10 miles away. I'd never run a distance like that before and flung myself clothed into the waves. And the story went out, Albie Sachs runs to the sea and people thought I was joyous and happy and part of me was but part of me was severely damaged inside. And being detained once doesn't give you immunity against being detained again. Two years later I'm locked up a second time and this time it's a team of interrogators down from Johannesburg with disdain for the Cape Town interrogators who hadn't broken me the first time and they worked around the clock and they banged the table and they shout and shout and shout for 15 minutes and then total silence. And an hour passes and they bang on the table, shouting, shouting, noise, noise, noise and then total silence. And it goes on hour after hour, hour after hour and eventually some food is brought to me and I see kind of a smirk on their face and I realise afterwards there's something in that food that makes me even more tired. And I go through the night and I'm holding out and I'm thinking how long, how long can I carry on and if I break, and as counsel so many of my clients had broken and when they broke after two or three or four days of non sleeping, they broke completely. They had no resistance at all and I'm starting to think am I going to break, am I going to break? And eventually at about 5:00 in the morning I collapse onto the floor. And I see these shoes, black shoes, brown shoes, crowding around, muttering, talking, talking, the moment they'd be waiting for, the moment I'd be waiting and water is poured onto me and I'm lifted up and my eyes are pried open and I sit on the chair and I collapse again. This happens three or four times and each time they lift me up and they're in control of me and my body, my fatigue is fighting my mind and I'm feeling that I'm breaking. To this day I've not got over that moment of expert loss of dignity, of autonomy, of a person feeling myself be able to determine, decide what I'm doing because my body was fighting my mind and they were fighting my body and I think there was something in the food that even weakened my resistance. And now I'm trying to control my breakdown, not avoid of breakdown but to control, to control, to manage what I'm going to say. And I started, when I did speak, indicating the circumstances in which I was making a statement, the collapsing on the floor, the water beads, all written down, all written down, all written down and if I see that half smirk on the face of the lawyer, Swanapool was his name, the person in charge. And they're shuffling pages around and I'm signing pages and I realise afterwards that he has just got rid of that page in which I made that particular statement. It's gone. It's vanished. And I feel it's another humiliation and they outsmarted me and they took advantage of my fatigue. And so I travelled on the boat and I'm throwing the tenaquoit and my body is exerting itself. After my second release my colleagues wanted to know am I running to the sea again and I said no, take me home. Take me home. And I remember some years later I was a very keen mountain climber and one day, those of you who know Cape Town, there's Devil's Peak on the one side, there's Table Mountain and Lion's Head the third. And we came between Lion's Head and Table Mountain and I said I'm going up Devil's Peak. I climbed three mountains in one day, totally exhausted at the end of it. And my psychiatrist friend said it's a well known thing, it's called in German [foreign language] syndrome. That's men getting old start fearing for loss of their virility and going to extreme forms of endeavour. The only problem was I was 31. And yet the [foreign language] fitted exactly, that sense of humiliation and defeat and even as to do something absolutely strenuous to prove that I'm still real. So I'm lying on Hampstead Heath and watching the kites and a lot of this sense of hurt and damage of being a refugee like myself running through me and I'm grateful to the United Kingdom for receiving me. It's not everywhere in the world I could go. And yet I'm angry and I'm angry at the very people who are being kind to me. I'm angry at my dependence.