SOFT VENGEANCE is a film about Albie Sachs, a lawyer, writer, art lover and freedom fighter, set against the dramatic events leading to the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Shining a spotlight on Albie’s story provides a prism through which to view the challenges faced by those unable to tolerate a society founded on principles of slavery and disempowerment of South Africa’s majority black population. As a young man, Albie defended those committed to ending apartheid in South Africa. For his actions as a lawyer, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement in Cape Town, tortured through sleep deprivation and forced into exile. In 1988 he was blown up by a car bomb set by the South African security forces in Maputo, Mozambique, which cost him his right arm and the sight of one eye, but miraculously he survived and after a long year of rehabilitation in England, he recovered. Returning to South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela, Albie helped write the new Constitution and was then appointed as one of the first 11 judges to the new Constitutional Court, which for the past 20 years has been insuring that the rights of all South Africans are afforded protection.
As Albie was recovering in a London hospital from the car bomb he received a note reading: “Don’t worry, comrade Albie, we will avenge you.” What kind of country would it be, he wondered, if it ended up filled with people who were blind and without arms? But if we achieve democracy, freedom and the rule of law, he said to himself, that will be my soft vengeance.” As it turned out, the first phase of his soft vengeance started with his becoming one of the principal architects of South Africa’s new non-racial, non-sexist Constitution. It went on to include his meeting through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the man who had organized the placing of the bomb in his car, and ended with him being chosen by Nelson Mandela as one of the first eleven members of South Africa’s first Constitutional Court set up to guarantee the implementation of the fundamental rights for which they had been fighting.
Adding to the visual texture of the film is the story behind the construction of the Constitutional Court building, in which Albie played a critical role. He was among those who recommended that the new Court building be erected in the heart of the prison where both Gandhi and Mandela had been imprisoned and be designed to represent enlightenment and hope where once there had been despair. Albie became curator in chief of the Court’s unique art collection representing the themes of human dignity, equality and freedom that lay at the heart of the new Bill of Rights. As Albie said: “The building was designed to be a continuing part of the freedom struggle, and to epitomize in its very openness and sense of humaneness, the values of human dignity, equality and freedom that lay at the core of the constitutional endeavor.”