FIRST PERSON: ALBIE SACHS
Albie Sachs was part of the anti-apartheid movement and was briefly jailed for his activism. Sachs survived a car-bombing carried out by apartheid regime henchmen in Mozambique in 1988 and continued to campaign. He was appointed as a judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court by Mandela in 1994. He spoke to the JC about “the struggle” and his rapport with Mandela.
“I worked very closely with Nelson Mandela when I was in the underground resistance.
“We were literally underground one time, in the basement of a house. We were all standing around waiting for someone to arrive. In came the tall figure of Mandela. He had that broad smile and looked so serene. It was encouraging to feel his strength and serenity. He had this calmness in the most difficult circumstances. We all had huge admiration for him.
“By and large, the organised Jewish community failed to come out against apartheid and racism. But of the whites who were against apartheid, a large percentage were Jews. I think it was because of our forefathers fleeing pogroms.
“There were lawyers and medics who helped the struggle — quite a large number — people doing extraordinary work. Accountants who got money in for the underground. Even a dentist. It was not just one or two.
“But the organised community did not take a stand.
“The attitude of Nelson Mandela after his release was to make and encourage all people from all communities to feel welcome in the new South Africa. He did not point fingers. He spoke with affection of those Jews who had helped the struggle. It was gracious and warm and hugely respectful.
“It is not often you will find me in a shul but, after Mandela’s election as president, the mayor of Cape Town said that I must go to Marais Road Synagogue on one particular Shabbat — Mandela would be there. They even knitted me a yarmulke in ANC colours to make sure I would go.
“In walked Nelson Mandela. It was an amazing moment.
“He spoke to the congregation with such warmth and generosity. I saw so many old men crying, with sympathy and emotion. Probably very few of them had ever lifted a finger themselves to help him. Mandela was encouraging them to feel they were part of the new South Africa. He told them they were welcome in the new South Africa and that their beliefs, faith and allegiances were part of the tapestry of the nation.”