WITS NEWS: Statement on the passing of former Chief Justice Pius Nkonzo Langa

Taken from Wits News:

 

The University expresses its sincerest condolences to the family, friends, colleagues and loved ones of a stalwart of South Africa, a respected leader of the judiciary and a guardian of our Constitution – former Chief Justice Pius Langa.

Justice Langa passed away on Wednesday, the 24th of July 2013, after a long illness. He was scheduled to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Laws from Wits University in June this year. However, due to his illness his family requested Wits to reschedule the conferral to a later date. The University will now confer the award to him posthumously later this year.

 

 Former Chief Justice Langa must be remembered for his unselfish, inspirational and steadfast service to South Africa and his profession. He was one of the first set of judges to be appointed to the Constitutional Court and he has left a legacy that will greatly benefit our legal and judicial fraternities, as well as the citizens of our country.

 

 Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Wits University.

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BIOGRAPHY OF FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE PIUS LANGA

 

 

 

Former Chief Justice Langa’s long and distinguished legal career has moved in parallel with a number of watershed events in South Africa’s history. In the symbolically significant year of 1976 he obtained his LLB degree, which empowered him to play a meaningful role in the struggle against apartheid and the attainment of our constitutional democracy. In the equally significant year of 1994, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to that effort, he was co-entrusted with the guardianship of our Constitution. Through both his advocacy prior to his judicial career and through his judgment since, he has enriched our constitutional democracy.

 

 

 

Justice Pius Langa was born in Bushbuckridge in 1939, the second of seven children. He completed his secondary school education through private study and obtained his BLuris and LLB degrees through the University of South Africa. He was admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa in 1977 and attained the rank of Senior Counsel in 1994.

 

 

 

He commenced his working career in a shirt factory in 1957 and from 1960 to 1977 was employed by the Department of Justice in various positions ranging from interpreter to messenger to magistrate. During his practice at the Bar he represented the underprivileged, civic bodies, trade unions and people charged with political offences. In 1997 he became Deputy President of the Constitutional Court and subsequently Deputy Chief Justice until his appointment as Chief Justice and head of the Constitutional Court in 2005. In that capacity he chaired the Judicial Service Commission. He retired as Chief Justice in 2009 and then served as the chairperson of the Southern African Judges Commission and as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

 

 

 

Justice Langa’s dedicated service to this country was evidenced by his participation in many organisations that were committed to ending apartheid and ensuring democratic rule. These included the UDF, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum, CODESA, the Constitutional Committee of the ANC, and the advisory group to the Groote Schuur and Pretoria ‘Talks-about-Talks’. He was a founder member of the Release Mandela Committee of Natal and a member of the Regional and National Reception Committee that facilitated and accelerated the release of political prisoners.

 

 

 

He was appointed to the Police Board to assist with the transformation of the Police Services under the aegis of the National Peace Accord, formed to stem the violence that plagued parts of South Africa in the eighties and early nineties, served as a member of the Commission of Inquiry into Unrest in Prisons, and was a member of the Commission of Inquiry into certain alleged covert SADF activities.

 

 

 

Beyond his national service, Chief Justice Langa has also played a significant role regionally and globally. In 1998 he chaired a Commission that probed the Lesotho elections on behalf of the Southern African Development and Economic Community and in 2000 was appointed the Commonwealth’s Special Envoy to assist the Fiji Islands’ return to democracy. He has participated in the work of constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Tanzania. And, at the request of the Cameroon government, led a delegation of the International Bar Association to Cameroon to review and integrate the country’s system of criminal procedure. He was a member of the Judicial Integrity Group that compiled the Bangalore Principles for Judicial Ethics.

 

 

 

He served on the executive committee of the Democratic Lawyers Association and was founder member and President of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers from 1988 to 1994. He was involved in the founding of the South African Legal Defense Fund, served as a Commissioner of the pre-constitutional Human Rights Commission, served on boards and as trustee of various law-related institutions and organized and participated in numerous conferences, workshops and seminars.

 

 

 

Justice Langa was appointed Honorary Professor in the Department of Procedural and Clinical Law, University of Natal and served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas Texas. He was Chancellor of the University of Natal from 1998-2004 and also served as the Chancellor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

 

 

 

In recognition of his considerable contributions was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes from both national and international organisations. Notable amongst these was an award by the Judicial Council of the American National Bar Association, the 2004 Justice Prize by the Peter Gruber Foundation (co-recipient with former Chief Justice Chaskalson) and South Africa’s prestigious Order of the Supreme Counselor of the Baobab: Gold.