Activist Zackie Achmat has a go at retired Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs at UCT over moral tensions that have arisen about cartoonist Zapiros freedom to express himself however he chooses. Words have consequences, Sachs said. Picture: Michael Walker

Retired Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs was on Thursday night put through his paces by the TAC’s Zackie Achmat and cartoonist Zapiro over remarks allegedly made about freedom of expression during a speech in Durban.

Sachs was speaking at UCT on Thursday, where he presented a talk titled “Great Text/Big Questions”. The speech was centred on addressing moral tensions around freedom of expression, with reference in particular to some controversial cartoons by Zapiro.

According to Achmat and Zapiro, Sachs apparently expressed strong views about how writers and cartoonists should go about opening debate relating to politicians and the country’s issues.

He is further believed to have said that the cartoon of President Jacob Zuma “raping justice” had been deeply offensive to black people and black men.

But Sachs apparently changed his speech in Cape Town, said Achmat.

After Sach’s presentation, Zapiro challenged him, saying that his speech in Durban had come across as “shocking”. He said he had known that “s**t was about to hit the fan” when he drew the cartoon. “But my thoughts were, here is someone who is bullying the judiciary (in reference to Zuma). I knew there were aspects that would offend people, but I thought it was an incredibly important moment.

“I think it pushed Zuma to say that he actually respected the judiciary.” He said he defended the “right to be rude and to take on the most powerful people”.

Achmat told Sachs he was concerned that someone of Sach’s “stature” had used his authority to say that writers and artists ought to “sit on the fence and be careful”.

Sachs said his speech in Durban simply addressed the “tone and form” that open dialogue ought to take. “I think artists should be daring, but they should be aware of the power of words,” he said. - Cape Times