Tribute to Chief Justice Pius Langa

This month we mourn the recent passing of Chief Justice Pius Langa.

Justice Langa succeeded Arthur Chaskalson as the Chief Justice of South Africa in 2005 and held the position until his retirement in 2009. His first job was in a shirt factory, but through hard work and tenacity Justice Langa rose to the pinnacle of the legal profession; attaining the rank of senior counsel and ultimately being appointed as one of South Africa’s first Constitutional Court judges.

Justice Pius LangaHe had a keen sense of justice and was instrumental in laying the foundations of the Court’s rich jurisprudence. Despite these and other achievements, Justice Langa‚Äôs humility remained one of his most enduring and endearing characteristics.

Justice Langa was also a strong proponent of the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom. After his retirement he served as the chairperson of the Press Freedom Commission that was established by the Press Council to review the print media’s self-regulatory system.

Speaking at the 2007 Bram Fischer memorial lecture, held annually by the Legal Resources Center, Justice Langa stated the following in relation to freedom of expression:

There is no doubt that the world, and this country in particular, are in dire need of men and women of courage who follow the dictates of their conscience. South Africa is a young country on the democratic road and can only benefit from having all constructive views not being withheld, but being freely expressed. We started well when thirteen years ago we adopted a Bill of Rights which, among other things promotes and protects freedom of expression and of thought. These are freedoms which the many sons and daughters of this land made enormous sacrifices for. We should therefore ensure that those who have something to say, albeit different and contrary to what the majority espouse, have the space to express themselves.

Justice Langa lived by the views that he espoused. Those that knew him recall how he always took the time to listen to others’ views and to validate their right to hold an opinion different from his own. Although we mourn his passing, we also celebrate a life well lived.

Click here for the full text of the Bram Fischer Memorial lecture.