The art of justiceA timely and special lecture took place in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. Albie Sachs, a freedom fighter during the apartheid-era in South Africa who was involved in drawing up the country’s democratic Constitution and later appointed by former South African President Nelson Mandela as a judge, took the podium to celebrate the life of the great human rights hero, who died last Thursday.
Sachs, who was also a leader in South Africa’s democratic revolution, referred to South Africa’s first black president as a comrade and a friend in a turbulent crusade for equality and justice in the severely segregated nation. As a white lawyer, he defended the rights of black South Africans in the 1950s and 1960s, and was maimed by a car bomb while helping African National Congress (ANC) leaders in exile. He was sentenced to solitary confinement for six months without a trial and exiled for 24 years. In 1988, a car bomb in Mozambique planted by South African security agents cost him his right arm and the sight from one eye.
In an interview with the Abu Dhabi press, Sachs said democracy in South Africa was achieved not only with the help of great leaders like Mandela but through a courageous and intense struggle for human rights and freedom in Africa. Sachs celebrated how remarkable and noble - instead of hostile and violent - South Africa’s struggle for justice had been in his book “The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law” in 2009. A blue dress, the image of an artwork by Judith Mason that was acquired by Sachs for display in the gallery of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, decorated his book’s cover.
The art symbolizes the vision of Mandela, the ANC and the Constitutional Court to pave the way for the post-apartheid era through forgiveness and reconciliation. But atonement and reconciliation were only possible after the dark, atrocious and cruel truths were thoroughly bared. The killers and perpetrators of other cruel crimes only received atonement after they publicly confessed to their atrocities before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The principles of a dignified struggle and amnesty were built up through the days of struggle.
In a 1985 conference, the ANC passed key resolutions on various forms of struggle. Although freedom fighters would inevitably have to resort to a traditional armed struggle, they would not use terrorism or attack people. It banned the use of torture and proclaimed an anti-terror stance because, “If the ANC went for that, we would play into the hands of those in power.”
It also said, “The oppressed don’t have to learn the language of the oppressors.” If the ANC helped to plant democracy in South Africa, it would be grown on “our blood” not “theirs,” Sachs wrote.
The ANC held trials for captives and spies, arranged lawyers for them and allowed them the right to appeal. Even before the white-dominated government surrendered, it was spiritually defeated by the anti-apartheid movement, which went in the opposite direction of violence and torture to attain its goal.
As the world mourns the death of one of the greatest heroes of our time, the domestic air is heavy with fine dust and violent language. An opposition party member publicly questioned the legitimacy of the last presidential election and demanded President Park Geun-hye step down. The ruling Saenuri Party submitted motions to expel Democratic Representatives Jang Ha-na and Yang Seung-jo.
Jang claimed last year’s election was “unlawful” while Yang publicly warned the president she could follow in the footsteps of her father, Park Chung Hee, a strongman who was assassinated by his own spy chief. The president’s senior spokesman fumed that it was “rhetorical murder.”
Regardless of who is right or wrong, I believe the victor is the one who prevails in spirit. The people are not foolish. What the people care about is not exchanges of spiteful words but the truth behind the National Intelligence Service’s involvement in last year’s presidential race. I am not saying wrongdoing should be ignored. But politicians must think before they blurt out nasty words. The biggest enemy to democracy is political cynicism.
If the DP has been incompetent, the Saenuri has been soulless. We have to ask what the party has done throughout the year as a ruling party. We also wonder why the presidential office could not have been cool in its responses and left it up to the people to judge the situation instead of jumping at every comment the opposition made.
Mandela and the ANC prevailed because they kept to their principles. Sachs shook hands with the retired officer who was involved in the car bomb that crippled him. He offered his left hand to the person who took away his right. That’s the art of real justice.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kwon Suk-chun