TAIPEI - Albie Sachs, the South African judge who rose to fame for his role in the anti-apartheid struggle, was Saturday awarded the Tang Prize, touted as Asia’s version of the Nobels, for his contributions to human rights and justice. Sachs, who lost an arm and the sight of one eye in a car-bombing by apartheid forces in Mozambique in 1988 and was later appointed to South Africa’s Constitutional Court by Nelson Mandela, was recognised ‘for his many contributions to human rights and justice globally,’ said the Tang Prize Foundation.
In particular, the foundation recognised his efforts ‘in the realisation of the rule of law in a free and democratic South Africa’. He will receive Tw$50 million (US$1.7 million), with Tw$40 million in cash and the remainder in a research grant after winning the inaugural prize in the rule of law category. The 79-year-old, who began practicing law at age 21, often defended people charged under the apartheid regime, and was arrested and subjected to torture as a result.
In 1966, he went into exile to England. Eleven years later he moved to Mozambique to help build up a new legal system for the recently-liberated African country. There, he was wounded in the car bomb by apartheid forces - an event he described as a turning point. ‘Until then I was just another one of thousands of people in exile who had been in the struggle,’ he told the Guardian in 2011 of the attack. ‘The bomb for me introduced the element of madness [you find] in fable.’ Sachs returned to South Africa in 1990 when the African National Congress (ANC) was unbanned and Mandela released from prison, and played an active role in negotiations for a new constitution.
When Mandela was elected president in South Africa’s first democratic non-racial elections in 1994, Sachs was appointed to the Constitutional Court, where he served till 2009. There, he assisted in authoring many of the court’s landmark decisions, including the legalisation of marriage. Named after China’s Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the Asian prize was founded by Taiwanese billionaire Samuel Yin in 2012 with a donation of Tw$3 billion.
Earlier this week, Norwegian ex-premier Gro Harlem Brundtland was named as the first recipient of the prize for her work as the ‘godmother’ of sustainable development, while noted Chinese American historian Yu Ying-shih was awarded for his accomplishment in sinology. Immunologists James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan became joint recipients in the biopharmaceutical sciences category for their contributions in the fight against cancer.