Friday 17 November 2017

Mandela’s Irish kitchen ‘cabinet’

Trinity College lecturer and fellow lawyer drafted South Africa’s Bill of Rights in Dublin house

CHARTER: Kadar Asmal and Albie Sachs drafted the Bill of Rights in 1987. Photos: Stephen Collins/Mike Hutchings
CHARTER: Kadar Asmal and Albie Sachs drafted the Bill of Rights in 1987. Photos: Stephen Collins/Mike Hutchings
Albie Sachs

Fiona Forde

THE legacy of Nelson Mandela stretches far and wide, and even to a suburban home in south Dublin where South Africa’s Bill of Rights was crafted around a kitchen table more than two decades ago.

The year was 1987 and though the battle was not yet won, the African National Congress (ANC) knew the end of Apartheid was relatively near. Hence the Constitutional Committee of the former liberation movement asked the late Kadar Asmal, who was living in exile in Ireland at

the time, to draft the guiding principles of a future constitution, one that was eventually written into law in 1996.

Asmal, then a lecturer at Trinity College, called on his fellow South African comrade, Albie Sachs, who was also a lawyer, to fly over from London to lend him a helping hand. Mr Sachs recalled the “grey drizzly day” when they sat down at the kitchen table in Beech Park Road in Foxrock to write the first draft of the Bill of Rights.

“Kader (who was a heavy smoker) didn't smoke indoors the whole weekend,” he said.

“On Friday evening, the whole of Saturday, Saturday evening and most of Sunday, he and I worked on the first draft of the Bill of Rights for a democratic South Africa,” a human rights charter to protect the social, civil and political rights of all of the divided country's people.

“It was on a kitchen table in that Dublin suburb that that draft was written,” Mr Sachs added.

“I wish I could say it was because of the great tradition of Irish freedom that we felt there was no other place in the world it could be done.

“The reality was that the Constitutional Committee had nominated Kader and me to doitandwehadtocome together either in London or in Dublin and because Kader couldn't get away, I came to Dublin.

“We were aware at the time of the momentous nature of what we were doing.”

Though Asmal is no longer alive to tell the tale, Mr Sachs remembered “deliberately

sitting down with a blank sheet of paper — no universal declaration, no international conventions, no constitution from any country — on the basis that a Bill of Rights should speak out from the soul the fundamental rights that belong to every human being and shouldn't be a list of items gleaned from an encyclopedia or legal dictionary or textbook.”

Not long after Madiba was freed, talks to end Apartheid began. When he became the country's first democratically elected president in 1994, work on the country's

constitution began and the document drafted by Mr Asmal and Mr Sachs in Dublin a few years later appeared almost verbatim in a chapter of the constitution today.

For the past few months, Ireland’s Ambassador to South Africa Brendan McMahon has been in talks with his headquarters in Dublin — as well as Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who heads up the constituency to which Foxrock belongs — to have a plaque erected outside the house on Beech Park Road where the foundations to South Africa’s most important document were laid.

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