Former Chief Justice Chaskalson was ‘formative’ to SA’s new order

It is with “great sadness” that Stellenbosch University (SU) received the news that former Chief Justice Dr Arthur Chaskalson had passed away on 1 December 2012, Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said over the weekend.

Chaskalson, who was the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2007 for being “formative in building a new legal order for post-apartheid South Africa, based on the foundational constitutional values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”

On Monday [3 December 2012], Prof Sandy Liebenberg, the HF Oppenheimer Chair in Human Rights Law at SU, said Chaskalson’s “seminal contribution to constructing the architecture of South Africa’s transformative constitution and jurisprudence cannot be over-emphasised.”

In one of his last public appearances earlier this year [11 July 2012], Chaskalson provided valuable insights into South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. His 35-page speech contains a first-hand account of many important moments during the political negotiations and constitution-making process of the 1990s.

He delivered the speech at the 25th International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) conference, which was hosted by the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). The Centre forms part of SU’s HOPE Project, a university-wide science-for-society initiative.

Chaskalson told delegates that “those who negotiated the Constitution made a deliberate choice, preferring understanding over vengeance, reparations over retaliation, ubuntu over victimisation.”

He said South Africa is now a better place than under apartheid, but pointed out that the country is still facing widespread poverty, landlessness, unemployment and disparities between rich and poor, often determined by colour.

“There are troubling signs of instability in a high crime rate, increasing resort to violent protest, and reports of corrupt practices,” he warned.

“One of the lessons of the South African experience is that whilst democracy and the rule of law may be preconditions for a more equitable society, they are not in themselves sufficient to achieve the goal of a peaceful and thriving community. Equally important is the need for development and an economy that provides work and hope for all who need it.”

Chaskalson concluded on a positive note: “Although we have a long way to go to realise the aspirations we set for ourselves when we adopted our Constitution, I remain an optimist and believe in our country and its future.”

Liebenberg described Chaskalson as “a shining role-model for generations of law students of how the law can be a powerful tool in constructing a society based on social justice, compassion and human rights for all in diametrical contrast to the role it played under apartheid of injustice and oppression.”

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[Article by Desmond Thompson]

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