Apartheid fighter, bomb survivor shares story

Antiapartheid activist Albie Sachs lost his right arm to a car bomb planted by South African agents 25 years ago.
Mattthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Antiapartheid activist Albie Sachs lost his right arm to a car bomb planted by South African agents 25 years ago.

Twenty-five years ago, antiapartheid activist Albie Sachs lost his right arm to a car bomb planted by South African agents.

When he heard about the Marathon bombings in Boston, Sachs felt an immediate, deeply personal sense of loss.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not another bomb,” he said. “Not in Boston. Not at a race.”


Sachs, a leading figure in the fight against apartheid who helped write the South African Constitution, spoke Monday to a small gathering of students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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In poignant remarks, the former justice of South Africa’s highest court said he was moved by the region’s resolve and “sense of solidarity” since the bombings.

“There’s a great sense of pride” over how Boston came together, he said.

Sachs, 78, came to Boston at the request of Marcellette ­Williams, senior vice president of the University of Massachusetts, who believed that Sachs’s thoughts and personal experience would help students during a difficult time.

“His voice was required,” she told the audience.


Sachs, along with other leaders in the antiapartheid movement, has longstanding ties to UMass, one of the first US universities to divest from companies that did business with the South African regime during apartheid. Nelson Mandela’s daughter graduated from ­UMass Amherst in 1989, and in 2006 the university awarded the former president an honorary degree.

Sachs recalled the day he was nearly killed in Mozambique, where he was living in exile. In the hospital, he ­remembered being told that his arm was “in a lamentable condition.” He drifted back to sleep with a “sense of joy” that he was still alive.

“They had come for me, and I survived,” he told the audience. “I knew that as I recovered, my country would, too.”

Sachs recalled that during his recovery in England, a nurse remarked, “Let’s get rid of this rubbish,” as she removed shrapnel from one of his wounds.

It was one of many kind gestures he received during his hospital stay, he said.


“That made me love England,” recalling the hospital where he was treated as “organized love.”

‘My immediate reaction was, “Oh no, not another bomb. Not in Boston. Not at a race.” ’

The same sympathy shone through the stories of the medical personnel who treated those injured in the Boston bombings, he said.

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

After he lost his arm, Sachs said he tried using an artificial limb, but decided against it when he heard of people who did not want to be seen without it.

“You want to be like you were before,” he said. “But I didn’t want to be afraid of being caught without my arm. I didn’t want to live in fear.”

Sachs, who would go on to run marathons, recalled one run immediately after his ­release from prison, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. As soon as he was free, he ran some 10 miles to the beach and straight into the water.

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.