Inaugural Tang Prize Laureate in Rule of Law Albie Sachs wrapped up a week in Taiwan with an appearance at the book release talk for the Tang Prize’s new work Determined to Change: the First Tang Prize Laureates. Late on the afternoon of Saturday, May 2, Albie shared his experiences with the audience and gave each reader a signature and a memory to last a lifetime.
This is the third visit of the former constitutional court judge and freedom fighter to Taiwan. At the book release Albie told the story of his survival of an attempted assassination by car-bomb, in which he lost an arm and half of his sight, as well as the restructuring of the South African government and society. On each step of his life’s journey, he has applied the concept of “Soft Vengeance,” the idea that vengeance is more truly gained through the realization of equality and democracy.
Author Xu Fang-ju sat beside Albie as he recounted his experiences and offered her own questions and impressions. She mentioned that during her writing of the book, she was most touched by Albie’s insistence to realize the rule of law in South Africa. On the difference between rule of law and rule by law, and the importance of the of, Albie said that laws allow individuals of a society to act in ways in which they can predict the results—we can plan for the future because the law is understandable and predictable. He went on to stress that legislation is something that requires participation from the society either directly or through representation, but it must always be made in respect of human dignity and human rights.
In contrast rule by law, Albie said, is law in form but not spirit. It is law not based on basic human rights and dignity, but is rather used to oppress the people. It is not concerned with equality and does not bring about true justice.
Constitutional courts all around the world are involved in what Albie calls a transition from rule by law to rule of law. These courts are responsible for determining the constitutionality of the laws of a country, and in cases of unconstitutionality, how such laws must be amended. Albie said that for laws to be meaningful and humane, they ought to be made to fit the essential spirit of the constitution.
Albie once mentioned that he hopes we can live in a society where the young people of today will no longer need “soft vengeance” to gain basic rights and equality. On this topic, Xu asked what advice Albie would give the youth to realize such a society. Albie told the audience that the only advice he can give is to not follow the suggestions of the older generation. The younger generation can learn from the stories of the past, but it comes down to every individual to “find your own way.” With a lawyer’s logic and a story-teller’s sense of humor, he laughed at his own apparent paradox: “if you don’t take my advice, then you will be taking my advice; if you do take my advice, then you won’t be taking my advice.”
All philosophical joking aside, the audience of 200-plus readers were greatly enamored of the event and its special guest. It gave them the opportunity to hear about the rule of law from one of its biggest exponents. After the talk, readers lined down the stairs to have their books signed and receive a special and once-in-a-lifetime gift from Albie—a hug.
The other star of the event, the new Tang Prize book Determined to Change, was written by the CommonWealth author Xu Fang-ju from a series of interviews she conducted with the five laureates last September (2014). In it, she recounts the stories of each of the laureates and gives the reader a look into the struggles, the eureka moments, and the eventual successes of each of these five outstanding individuals. For anyone looking to be inspired to greatness, Determined to Change is a must read.