Stellenbosch mourns the passing of former Chief Justice Pius Langa

“We mourn the death of a great South African,” Stellenbosch University (SU) Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman said earlier today (24 July 2013) after receiving the news that former Chief Justice Pius Langa had passed away.

Maties had conferred an honorary doctorate on Langa in December 2011 for championing justice and a democratic dispensation in South Africa throughout his career.

“His intellectual contribution to constructing the foundations of our country’s constitutional jurisprudence and his distinguished leadership of the judiciary were widely admired,” Dean of SU’s Faculty of Law Prof Sonia Human said earlier today of Langa.

In his acceptance speech after receiving an honorary degree from SU in 2011, Langa said: “I think I am one of the most fortunate people in this country – fortunate because I have seen the worst of it, and because I have been given the opportunity to take part in improving it.”

He referred to the film, The Bucket List, which he described as being “about two old guys who are aware of the fact that their time on earth is passing fast, and they decided before they die they need to do this and that.”

He added: “The moment I sat down after taking off my robes [after retiring in 2009] … I became aware of what still needs to be done. On my ‘bucket list’ are thousands of things. We come from a South Africa that has been struggling; a South Africa of two worlds, which we are trying to bring together. We come from a South Africa which resolved that everyone is entitled to social justice. And it is our job to do that.”

Earlier in 2011, Langa delivered the keynote address at a Colloquium on Law and Poverty presented by SU’s Faculty of Law. His deep concern for law’s relevance to the needs of the marginalised is poignantly captured in the following quotation from his address:

“I have walked among the shacks and I have seen little children without food. I have asked myself what the real meaning of the Constitution is in the context of the founding constitutional values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”

[Taken from Law and Poverty: Perspectives from South Africa and Beyond, edited by Sandra Liebenberg and Geo Quinot, and published by Juta in 2011.]

In 2006, Langa delivered the Annual Human Rights Lecture of SU’s Faculty of Law. Entitled Transformative Constitutionalism, the address was about the ideals and institutional processes on which South Africa’s Constitution is based. It was subsequently published in the Stellenbosch Law Review and has been widely cited in academic and popular literature.

“We believe that we can honour the memory of Justice Langa best by striving to ensure that these founding constitutional values have real meaning to all in South Africa, particularly those who are marginalised by poverty and inequality,” Human said.

“On behalf of Stellenbosch University, I would like to convey our condolences to Justice Langa’s family and friends,” Botman said.

Commendatio for Stellenbosch University awarding an honorary doctorate to Justice Pius Langa, 9 December 2011:

The degree of LLD, HONORIS CAUSA, to Pius Nkonzo Langa for his contribution as champion of justice and a democratic dispensation in South Africa, and as one of the first judges of the Constitutional Court, later as chief justice of South Africa, to constitutional jurisprudence.

Pius Nkonzo Langa worked in a clothes factory before his appointment as messenger and interpreter at the Department of Justice in 1960. Private study through Unisa enabled him to obtain BIuris (1973) and LLB (1976) and to practise as an advocate.

In 1994, he was appointed as one of the first judges at South Africa’s new Constitutional Court, which he later headed. Until his retirement in 2009, he was chief justice of South Africa. He has chaired the Judicial Service Commission and the Southern African Judges Commission, a forum of chief justices in Southern and East Africa.

Since his early working life as a township resident he always involved himself in bettering his community, through activities such as guiding youth and other clubs. In his career as an advocate, during some of the most tumultuous times in South Africa’s history, he championed justice and a democratic dispensation. His clientele included, for example, the underprivileged and those charged with political offences.

He contributed significantly to the development of a constitutional jurisprudence. He was responsible for a number of key judgements.

Langa has been a visiting professor in America. He has received honorary doctor’s degrees from universities in South African and overseas.

  • Link to video of Justice Langa receiving his honorary degree from Stellenbosch University in 2011, and his acceptance speech, click HERE
  • Link to story about Langa’s keynote address at a Colloquium on Law and Poverty presented by SU’s Faculty of Law in May 2011, click HERE
  • Click HERE for an abridged version of Langa’s address on 30 May 2011 at a Colloquium on Law and Poverty, hosted by Stellenbosch University’s Law Faculty as part of the institution’s HOPE Project.

 [Article by Desmond Thompson]

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