LOWELL, Mass. – Anti-apartheid champion Albie Sachs – an architect of South African democracy and a contemporary of Nelson Mandela – has been named UMass Lowell’s 2014 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies. Previous Greeley Scholars include the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee.
An influential member of the African National Congress, Sachs is a judge, author and teacher. The honor will bring him to UMass Lowell this semester for a series of events, including the annual Day without Violence on April 8.
Born in Johannesburg, Sachs’ lifetime pursuit has been abolishing South Africa’s segregationist policies and in their place creating a free and just society. In 1994, then-President Mandela named him as a judge to the country’s first Constitutional Court, capping his work in the ANC to help establish South Africa as a democracy and draft its constitution. During nearly 15 years on the bench, Sachs advanced South Africa’s recognition of human rights, legalizing same-sex marriage, striking down the death penalty and overturning laws that criminalized homosexuality, among other precedents. Beyond issuing legal decrees, he played a role in designing the courthouse, itself a symbol of equality.
“I am very excited to be this year’s Greeley Scholar for Peace. The concepts of peace and justice cannot be separated,” Sachs said. “At UMass Lowell, I will speak about working over the years with Nelson Mandela, about why we built the new top court in the heart of a prison where both Gandhi and Mandela had been locked up, and about restorative rather than punitive justice, including my meeting with the solider who planned the bombing of my car that nearly took my life.”
Early in his career, Sachs represented defendants who were charged under South African laws shaped by apartheid. In 1963, he was arrested twice under a law that allowed the government to detain political prisoners and was placed in solitary confinement. The experience became the basis of his memoir, “The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs,” which was adapted as Royal Shakespeare Company play and British Broadcasting Company film.
In 1966, Sachs went into exile but stayed connected to South African politics. For 11 years, he taught and studied law in England and later worked as a law professor and legal researcher in Mozambique. While in that country’s capital in 1988, he lost an arm and was partially blinded by a bomb planted in his car by South African security forces. His 1991 book, “Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter,” tells the story of his recovery.
Since his retirement from the court in 2009, Sachs has traveled the world to share his insights about South Africa and to help heal divided societies. He holds a bachelor of arts and a law degree from the University of Cape Town, a doctoral law degree from the University of Sussex and more than a dozen honorary doctorates from around the world.
With his selection as a UMass Lowell Greeley Scholar, Sachs joins an esteemed list of human-rights leaders who have also received the honor. Among them are 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Gbowee, who organized a peace movement that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003; John Prendergast, a frequent collaborator with actor George Clooney and founder of the Enough Project, which strives to end genocide and crimes against humanity in nations like Sudan; Linda Biehl, who forgave the men who killed her daughter Amy in South Africa and now travels with them to teach restorative justice and reconciliation; author and professor Padraig O’Malley, who works for peace in regions in conflict such as Northern Ireland; and Gavriel Salomon, who founded and directs the Center for Research on Peace Education at the University of Haifa in Israel.
Sachs was selected for the honor by the Greeley Scholar Advisory Committee and the UMass Lowell Peace and Conflict Studies Institute (PACSI), which is co-directed by Robert Gamache, associate vice president of academic affairs, student affairs and international relations for the University of Massachusetts system and UMass Lowell professor of environmental, earth and atmospheric sciences and Imogene Stulken, UMass Lowell’s campus minister.
“The Peace and Conflict Studies Institute is very excited to welcome Justice Albie Sachs as the 2014 Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies. He is a giant in the field of human rights. His personal struggle against the apartheid government of South Africa, his work in drafting the African National Congress’ Code of Conduct and its statutes preserving human rights and his work as a constitutional court judge in what was then the newly formed government under Nelson Mandela all attest to his deep-rooted beliefs in human rights and dignity. We are honored to have a person of Sachs’ stature as the 2014 scholar,” said Gamache.
Sachs will be the keynote speaker at the university’s annual Day without Violence. Free and open to the public, the event is at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 8 at the O’Leary Library Learning Commons on UMass Lowell’s South Campus, 61 Wilder St., Lowell. During his residency at the university, Sachs will lead other programs, including a seminar for UMass Lowell students presented by the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and Political Science Department.
In addition to PACSI and the Greeley Scholar program, Sachs’ visit to UMass Lowell is presented by the university’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program and the Center for Arts and Ideas. Members of the public interested in more information about the Greeley Scholar program and 2014 schedule of events should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Greeley Scholar for Peace Studies is selected annually in recognition of the honoree’s distinguished humanitarian achievements and ability to effectively promote peace and conflict resolution at the local, regional, national or international level. The honor is named for Rev. Dana McLean Greeley, an internationally respected advocate for peace, human and civil rights, and a longtime Unitarian Universalist minister in Concord. The program is funded by the Greeley Endowment for Peace Studies, established with a gift from the Concord-based Dana McLean Greeley Foundation for Peace and Justice and a contribution from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts via the UMass Foundation.