Former S African judge talks bullying and 'soft vengeance' in Taipei

  • Albie Sachs, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Rule of Law
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Albie Sachs gives a speech at the Jianguo High School in Taipei, May 1. (Photo/CNA)

Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, told students in Taiwan on Friday that bullying should be met with what he described as "soft vengeance."

During the speech at the prestigious Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School, the renowned freedom fighter shared his experience of making peace with a man who planted a bomb in his car in 1988 that blew off his right arm and blinded him in one eye.

Sachs said he hoped to use his personal experience to encourage students who are bullied in school to not seek revenge and retaliation, but to transcend their bitterness by seeking "soft vengeance."

In his autobiography "The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter," Sachs wrote that "to get freedom was a much more powerful vengeance than to subject the people who had done these things to us to the same harm."

He encouraged students who are bullied to "try to understand and find a way of connecting with the person who has caused you that injury."

"I call it soft vengeance because it's not really vengeance. It's transcendence. It's getting beyond that situation of malice and bitterness," the Tang Prize Rule of Law laureate told the 250 students in the audience.

Sachs also shared his childhood experience of being constantly beaten by a teacher and said he learned at a young age to suppress his emotions because society taught him "boys don't cry."

But he urged his young audience to embrace the complete range of human emotions.

"Don't be afraid to cry. Don't be afraid that you will be called unmanly. Don't be afraid to allow the tender and loving and caring side of your nature to come out," he urged.

During the Q&A session, students posed a variety of questions to the 80-year-old former judge, including his thoughts on the Baltimore protests in the US and capital punishment.

"I don't think the methods used are the most effective methods for achieving what the people want, but they do indicate the depth of the despair, the depth of the anger and the failure of the political system to respond in an adequate way," Sachs said, referring to the demonstrations that have erupted in Baltimore against police violence.

He said the string of racial clashes in the US have deeply saddened him, "but it's not a proof that black and white (people) cannot live together."

"It's just a proof that in particular circumstances in particular countries, issues haven't been faced up to properly and haven't been resolved."

On the topic of capital punishment, Sachs, an opponent of the death penalty, said killing cannot be justified and the state should not allow killers to "dictate the morality of our society."

Sachs joined the anti-apartheid movement at the age of 17. After obtaining his law degree at 21, he defended people charged under repressive apartheid laws and, as a result, was imprisoned and tortured.

Sachs arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a five-day visit. He is scheduled to leave Taiwan on Saturday after attending a book launch in Taipei.

He played a key role in drafting South Africa's new Constitution and Bill of Rights. During Sachs' tenure as a judge, the Constitutional Court abolished the death penalty, overturned anti-homosexuality laws and legalized same-sex marriage.

Sachs arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday for a five-day visit. He is scheduled to leave Taiwan on Saturday after attending a book launch in Taipei.