“Soft Vengeance”

“Soft Vengeance”

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Newseum

“My mum and my dad split up when I was very young, so most of my mum’s friends were women activists and I became a feminist just by immersion, just by the people who were around, people who were involved in the strike, in this action and in other actions,” Albie Sachs told Hollywood on the Potomac at a private screening of SOFT VENGEANCE honoring Robert F. Kennedy at The Newseum on what would have been his 90th birthday. “They weren’t demure women at home complaining of this, that, and the other; they were bright, active women with lots of energy and lots of hope. I think that is what shaped me.”  Sachs is an activist and a former judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa – SOFT VENGEANCE is his story.


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 dis-empowerment 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.” Synopsis


Abby Ginzberg and Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The legendary freedom fighter met Abby Ginzberg in 1974 when she was in law school. Ginzberg is an independent documentary film director and producer who creates films that tackle discrimination and the legal profession.  “I was an anti-apartheid person, but I didn’t know anyone from South Africa; so Albie was really my connection to that movement,” she told us prior to the screening.

Group at Newseum

From right – Abby Ginzberg, director, Nina Totenberg, NPR, Debbie Smith, Jean Butterfield, Lucas Gutentag, Joe Onek

We asked both Abby and Albie to weigh in on who the most vital activists are today and what are the causes they fight for: “My next film is about black student protests in the late 1960s,” said Ginzberg, who believes the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is a continuation of that now.  “I actually think we need to be cautiously optimistic that the changes that we thought had been in place, the things that would make us a non-racial country will see some major changes take place. We have more accountability in police departments; millions and millions of dollars are being spent by cities when cops assassinate young black and brown men, mostly. I think we’re going to have to hold our breath and see where this goes. Those of us from an earlier generation need to find some way to support the activities of these young people. We don’t have a movement with a leader like we did with Martin Luther King, but I’m cautiously optimistic that things may be slowly changing in the United States.”


Abby Ginzberg

“I see very big breakthroughs are being made,” said Albie. “There are the same sex marriages that are taken for granted now … It’s important not just in itself, it’s a capacity for people to embrace love and humanity and see human beings for being human beings. It goes well beyond same sex relationships, as such. The extent to which the Latino population is now becoming integrated into the political system and recognized as citizens, that can’t simply be trampled upon; I think that’s irreversible. The diversity, that’s the thing that outsiders love about America.  It’s the diversity, the freedom, the satire, the family interaction, and I think there’s been a lot of progress in this country. It’s a much more open country, generally, than it was when we first met. Huge gains have been made in all sorts of ways. I think if we knock our achievements too much, then we’re not building on them and we dis-empower ourselves. I’m the optimist. If I’m feeling down, people then get really, really, really worried, but I always find something. Wherever I am, I always find something positive.  There’s so much in this country that is vital and energetic and people speak out. It’s not a silenced country. It’s a very vocal, sometimes even too vocal, and sometimes awful things are said, but there’s great energy here. I think the progressive spirit is still strong. It’s unbroken, and hopefully that core of progressive thinking, of humane thinking, will be retained and will become the basis for future advances.”

Albie and Gandhi

Albie Sachs

“I want to say one other thing,” added Ginzberg, “which is one of the things that the newspapers have been commenting on recently in terms of the student protest movements; there has been the role of social media. When I think back to the late ’70s and how we all communicated with each other, it is amazing that movements survived and thrived with no means of communication other than actual letters and an occasional phone call.  I just want to make the point that today we have something called social media that we didn’t have either during the anti-Apartheid movement or during the student protests or the civil rights movement in the late ’60s. That is a force to be reckoned with. Today, if something happens in California, you hear about it on the east coast within seconds or minutes. I think the capacity for people to talk to each other and to feel like they’re part of the same movement of change, whatever it’s about, is really productive.”


“The only thing I’d like to add is,” said Sachs, “I’m really excited to be in The Newseum. When I tell people the film’s going to be on at The Newseum, I know it’s got more than fifteen minutes of fame.”

Abby Ginzberg and Albie Sachs in conversation: