Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa review

The film documents the life of Albie Sachs, a relatively less known white civil rights activist, in correlation to South Africa’s long and agonizing walk to freedom. The film starts with a bang, literally.

American producer and director, Abby Ginzberg, teaches South Africans about one of their own struggle heroes. While watching the film and gradually realising how much Albie Sachs had to sacrifice for the freedom of this country, people who hadn’t known about him before the film will feel ashamed.

Abby Ginzberg explores the life of Sachs as a teenager back in the apartheid-plagued days; his first marriage, his first time going to solitary confinement under the 90 day rule resulting in his tormenting stay in the notorious jail cells of Robben Island, forced into a 24 year long exile by the apartheid regime, his stay in Mozambique and the bombing in which he paid the ultimate price.

The regime targeted many activists including Joe Slovo, Ruth First and Albie himself.  In one of the most monumental scenes of the documentary, Albie meets Henri van der Westhuizen, one of the men who facilitated his horrendous bombing back in Mozambique. Sachs discloses that he was angry at the system, not the individuals, and this makes one realise what a big person Albie is. He also mentions that after meeting one of the wrongdoers, he was a bit relieved as he then had lesser mystery.

The film delves into Sachs’ astounding sense of reconciliation and humanity. He reveals in the film that he came from a comfortable background, he could have just sat back and benefit from apartheid like the others. Instead he sacrificed his own freedom, his left eye’s vision and his arm in the fight to free the oppressed black masses.

After the bomb blast, when Sachs was in a London hospital, he received a note from someone promising that they would avenge him. Albie’s idea of revenge was not one where they would chop off the arm of the offender, but it would be to see a democratic South Africa. That would be his revenge.

When Nelson Mandela was released from jail and became president of the country, he appointed Sachs as one of the first 11 judges of the then new Constitutional court. In one of the interviews Cyril Ramaphosa hails Sachs as the real Mr Constitution and Mr Bill of Rights. Desmond Tutu also acknowledges Sachs’ remarkable personality during another interview in the film.

Abby does a wonderful job in this film telling us our own story. This is not your usual documentary about apartheid where all white people are the offenders. The film is a stepping stone for South Africa on its way to reconciliation.