UMass Boston News

South African Activist Praises Response to Boston Marathon Bombings

Office of Communications | April 30, 2013
Activist Albie Sachs speaks to UMass Boston students

Activist Albie Sachs was one of the authors of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

Albie Sachs: “Heart Warmed” by Work of UMass Boston Students

Albie Sachs, an anti-apartheid activist, car bombing survivor, and one of the authors of South Africa’s constitution, said word of the Boston Marathon bombings didn’t quite sink in until he saw the pictures on TV.

“You don’t consciously think in terms of sentences or paragraphs. You just have an emotional response,” Sachs told a group of students and faculty at UMass Boston on Monday. “Now that I’m back in Boston, I feel a great sense of pride.”

Sachs visited campus on an invitation from Marcellette Gaillard-Gay Williams, the senior vice president for academic and student affairs and international relations for the UMass system, who said there was a need for Sachs’ voice and experience.

Sachs spoke to an invited group of conflict resolution, Africana studies, and future law students.

Sachs, who lost his right arm in a car bombing in Mozambique in 1988, commended the UMass Boston nursing and exercise and health science students who volunteered to help dehydrated runners on Patriots Day. Some of the students found themselves pressed into action after the blasts at the finish line.

“My heart is just so warmed,” he said.

Sachs talked about meeting the Henry, the man who admitted he organized the placement of the bomb in Sachs’s car. Sachs shook Henry’s hand after he went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and told them what he knew. He also talked about how one of his supporters came to visit him in the hospital and vowed to avenge the bombing.

“I said, ‘If we get democracy in South Africa, this will be my soft vengeance. If we get votes for everybody, if we get freedom, that will be my soft vengeance. Roses and lilies will grow out of my arm.’

“The theme of soft vengeance became the theme of the way I saw bringing the principles of constitutional democracy to our country and through the Truth Commission, allowing some of the extreme pain to come out, allowing people to tell their stories and to be heard, and some of the killers and the torturers themselves coming forward and acknowledging what they did, it really helped us all to move forward.”

Sachs, who began his career defending people charged under racial laws, went on to co-write the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In 2005, he authored the Constitutional Court of South Africa’s decision to overthrow a statute defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

One student asked about the advice Sachs would give to countries like Egypt and Syria. Sachs said he wouldn’t offer any.

“You tell them what your experience was. If they find something useful in your experience they can use or borrow, that’s fine,” he said.

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s nine colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit

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