Standing ovation for struggle hero
THE City of Saints was graced by an angel who fought against apartheid yesterday, when Judge Albie Sachs took to the podium for the ninth annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture at Kingswood College.
The internationally renowned human rights activist, author and jurist received a standing ovation from staff and pupils who crammed into the school chapel to listen to his lecture titled “Standing Up Against Injustice”.
Sachs, 80, said he shared many attributes with Aggett, the most significant of which was the fact that they were “volunteers of the struggle, and not born into it”.
This illustrated the fight for democracy was not one of colour but rather of “humanity versus inhumanity”.
Arrested in late 1981, Aggett’s body was found hanging in his cell in the notorious John Vorster Square on February 5 1982 soon after he was made to endure 60 hours of interrogation.
He was the first white South African activist to die in police custody
Sachs was the chief architect of the post-apartheid constitution of 1996. He has received 22 honorary doctorates from universities around the world to honour his dedication to human rights and reconciliation.
He recalled a dangerous and unstable time in the history of South Africa and said students were now “the second wave of transformation” who should use the freedoms acquired through democracy to create, share and implement new ideas.
“It was a glorious struggle filled with inglorious moments. I remember the interrogation room, those white padded walls and a policeman banging on the table, using all sorts of bullying tactics. Many times I felt like taking my own life to avoid the pressure of maintaining society’s secrets – a feeling I’m sure Neil Aggett experienced.
“After 168 days I was released. I remember being so happy I ran from Cape Town’s CBD to the ocean and just dived into it – only to be rearrested two years later. And it’s a lie that you get stronger each time you go in.”
After being released, Sachs went into exile in Maputo, Mozambique. It was there that a car bomb was planted by South African security agents, almost killing him. He lost his right arm and the sight in one eye.
“That bomb blew up all those complications, and I remember thinking as I lay in the hospital that as I recover so too will my country . . . and amazingly that vision turned out to be correct.
“But the struggle is not over. We have got from starvation to hunger. Despite achieving a lot we still have mass unemployment, corruption and more. Which is where you as students come in to implement ideas and make your life matter.”
Kingswood College headgirl Ashleigh Purdon said: “I think I speak for all of us when I say that the dedication and perseverance maintained by those fighting against apartheid is an inspiration.”
She hoped that if ever confronted with “a situation that goes against our own morals and values, we too will stand up for what is right”.
“We are fortunate to be able to befriend people of different cultures and races and for that we are truly grateful – for the lives of all those who fought for our freedom, as well as the hard times that were encountered to build our new South Africa.”
Aggett attended Kingswood from 1964 to 1970, after which he studied medicine at the University of Cape Town, graduating in 1977.
He worked in the former Transkei, where he became increasingly concerned at the hardships endured by black South Africans.
He abandoned his promising medical career and became involved with the black trade union movement.
A Neil Aggett Award is also presented each October to a pupil who exemplifies service above self in the year.
-Tremaine van Aardt