Sunday, August 19, 2007

Off to IFLA Conference: 19-23 August 2007, Durban, South Africa (part 3)

Sunday, 9.30am. Durban, South Africa. Opening Ceremony.

"Today we open the book of the conference and Gcina Mhlope [an elegant lady who hosted of ceremony] will tell you stories of the power of books, stories of people important to this event and stories of Africa."

IFLA 2007 Opening Ceremony1

And an important person we all heard this morning, all 3,000 plus of us.

The keynote speaker was Justice Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Before appearing on stage, the host mentioned several things about him.

As a young man, he stared his legal practice defending clients against unjust repressive laws in South Africa. Then he was detained without trial -- solitary confinement. Later he became a self-imposed exile. And then an attempt was made on his life. A bomb. Cost him his right arm and the loss of sight in one eye.

I wondered who Albie Sach was. What sort of speech would he give? How would he look like? What's his story, if any.

"Libraries are supposed to be boring. Conferences are boring. So a library conference would be even more boring," he joked by way of starting his speech. And he recounted his story of how he was arrested, kept in detention indefinitely; his experience in solitary confinement, how he kept himself sane by recalling names of places and songs.

Justice Albie Sachs

Then he shared the part about books.

The only book he was allowed to have was the bible. He would read it, not in a religious way, but to have something to keep sane. He read it sparingly so that he would not run out of pages. Later he was allowed to have books and writing materials. But the police couldn't allow his friends to send him books, for fear of hidden messages. The compromise was to have him specify the books he wanted, and the police would borrow them from the public library. He remembered reading Moby Dick and explained how he related parts of the story to his imprisonment.

Albie Sachs said books gave him the connection to the outside world.

He said books saved his life.

He dedicated the speech to the unknown librarian who made the books available in the library. The librarian probably didn't know for whom the books were meant. A librarian who unwittingly helped him survive.

Albie Sachs said his speech was to pay tribute to librarians. "You have to continue to make libraries better," he said.

I felt goosebumps.

The most inspiring IFLA speech I've heard so far, including past conferences.

To me, Justice Albie Sach spoke from his heart. He sounded like he was recounting an everyday life event. He punctured his remarks moving his arms (his left being the stump of an arm). He sounded like he was recounting an everyday life event. His voice was gentle and calm, and humble.

I thought a man like him would sound bitter or tired. He was neither.

If ever I feel down, when I feel the first pangs of self-pity, I'll be sure to remember a man like Mr. Sachs.

[reference: Part 2]
UPDATE: 29 Aug '07: Video & write-up from Aluka Blog

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