Tributes flow on the death of Justice Pius Langa

LangaAs the country mourns the passing of former Chief Justice Pius Langa, tributes poured in from President Jacob Zuma, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Azhar Cachalia and the entire legal fraternity, who all expressed shock and sadness at the passing of a man who was revered as one of the best legal minds the country has had.

Justice Langa succumbed to a long illness after he was admitted for nearly a month at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg.  He died on 24 July 2013 at the age of 74. 

Former Chief Justice Langa was the brains behind the first conference on constitutional justice, attended by leaders and members of the Constitutional Court and institutions of equivalent status, which was held in Cape Town several years ago. This conference culminated in the establishment of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice (WCCJ) which is a world forum on the promotion of constitutional justice.   

He was appointed to the bench by former President Nelson Mandela in 1994, at a time when transformation was essential. Through his efforts, a substantial number of women joined the law fraternity. One of his most valuable contributions was to help develop a judiciary-led court administration model which would strengthen the institutional independence of the judiciary in the country. Furthermore, Justice Langa, together with some of the world’s leading jurists, they developed the Bangalore Principles on Judicial Ethics which are now embraced by almost all judiciaries in the world.

Sharing the similar sentiments on the life of Justice Langa, Minister Jeff Radebe said South Africa had lost a legal stalwart who dedicated his life to human rights and law. "His commitment to human rights and the rule of law was demonstrated through his relentless participation in various organisations and structures advocating for the practice of government regulated by a Constitution,” the minister said.

Justice Langa was born into a poor family in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. He studied law at the University of South Africa (UNISA) while he worked as a labourer in a shirt factory in the late ‘50s. His started as an interpreter and his 49 year-long career ended in October 2009 when he retired as the chief justice.

His career progression is an inspiration to many young people in the country who are born in underprivileged backgrounds.  However, his passion for law did not end at retirement; he went on to serve as the chairman of the Press Freedom Commission, to ensure that journalists execute their jobs ethically while being protected by the law. 

His successor, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said he was saddened by the passing of the former Chief Justice. “We received news of the passing of former Chief Justice Langa with deep sadness. He served the nation with great distinction not only as senior counsel, president of National Association of Democratic Lawyers and Justice of the Constitutional Court but also in his capacity as Deputy Chief Justice and later as the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa. He was among the first judges to be appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1994.”

Additional info from South African media houses

By Nthabiseng Ngwetsana

26 July 2013