Terror & Torture

From Peter Bills at The Sunday Independent (SA):

The nightmare occurred far back in 1963, but Albie Sachs readily concedes: “I haven’t got over the mental scars. Solitary confinement and sleep deprivation remain as deeply embedded scars in my soul.

“Sometimes when I am walking on a high bridge I feel, like, a tug to topple over. It just evokes the memory of walking from or to the interrogation cell (during a spell of 168 days in solitary confinement). There was always that feeling of whether I should throw myself over the balcony…”

Albert Louis (Albie) Sachs, now 73, confesses he is surprised that such thoughts continue to surface. But, as he says, that shows how deep they went. In his words, there is a certain sadness deep down.

This extraordinary man, a living testimony to the belief that the human spirit can overcome all adversity, was blown up in his car by agents of the South African apartheid regime while working as a law professor in Maputo, the Mozambique capital, in 1988. He lost his right arm and was blinded in one eye. That he survived not just to exist but also to make so full a contribution to the life of a new, altogether better South Africa is a triumph for which this country should be grateful.

Judge Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court offers an appropriately calm, sober analysis of his own survival, his subsequent life and the contribution he continues to make to South African society. The day he took the oath of office as a judge in the new South Africa, he thought not of himself and his own incredible deliverance, but of those who had not made it through the dark times.

“I thought of those who were close to me, people like Looksmart Solwandle, Elija Loza, Ruth First and so many others. People I was very close to who were tortured to death.”

Read the rest here

Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, by Albie Sachs

Ruth First, 1925 – 1982

One Hundred Seventeen Days, by Ruth First, Foreward by Albie Sachs

Ruth First, by Chris van Wyk at Google Books

Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country, by Gillian Slovo

From a review of Slovo’s book at Salon:

Hours after Joe Slovo died, Nelson Mandela came to comfort Gillian and her sisters and share a personal pain. Gillian writes, “He told us how one day when he had gone to hug his grown-up daughter, she had flinched away from him and burst out, ‘You are the father to all our people, but you have never had the time to be a father to me.’ He let that last sentence hover before speaking again. This, he said, was his greatest, perhaps his only regret: The fact that his children, and the children of his comrades, had been the ones to pay the price of their parents’ commitment.”

Coming to terms with her parents has been Gillian Slovo’s lifelong quest. Some years ago, Shawn Slovo asked the same questions in her screenplay for “A World Apart,” in which Barbara Hershey played Ruth First. Now Gillian’s book goes over the same painful ground.

It was a strange, tense, difficult life. With the security net tightening around the family during the early ’60s, Slovo writes, “secrecy drifted over every section of our lives. It reached such a pitch that my mother no longer made even the most innocent arrangements by telephone.”

Even in exile, both parents drifted in and out of the house on clandestine missions. Still, their daughters asked no questions. “I think there was a side of me that didn’t want to know, or didn’t want to ask,” Slovo said. “It was part of the way we lived our lives that we didn’t ask. The secrecy was necessary, because to reveal those secrets was to risk people’s lives.”

The three girls were abandoned for long periods to their grandparents, servants, friends — anyone who happened not to be in jail or on the run. Many times, Slovo writes, they felt they were being tossed on a stormy sea with no life raft and little idea of what to expect next.

Recalling a moment when she watched her parents walking on the beach, their heads close together “not out of affection … but so that no one, not even their daughter, could hear about my father’s secret work,” Slovo writes, “Is this what happens, I thought then, that the webs of secrecy enmesh all of life, shrouding not only the details of the military operations that my father had organized, but also the way we feel towards each other? I never found a way of asking her.”

Yet the children were always aware that with a revolution erupting around them, to demand their parents’ attention seemed petty and spoiled. When Robyn was 11, she launched a campaign “to try and get Ruth to be like other mothers, to be there at breakfast and at supper too.” Needless to say, it failed miserably. “Even as children we carried internal scales of justice which we used to weigh up … the needs of the impoverished masses against ours,” Slovo writes. “How could we win? We knew enough about what our parents were doing to realize that we couldn’t ask them to make another choice. But could we also find a way to hush those inner voices which cried out for safety, security, normality — all those things our white school friends had?”

Read the rest here

Torture, Law and War: what are the moral and legal boundaries on the use of coercion in interrogation?”  a Conference sponsored by the Faculty of Law at the University of Chicago – there’s audio of the conference at the site

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