Former chief justice Pius Langa’s AK47 “was located in his head”, a friend said about Langa’s role in the struggle during a memorial service in Durban today.
Government leaders, the legal fraternity, academics and family and friends gathered today at Durban’s City Hall for the official memorial service ahead of his state funeral in Durban on Saturday.
Langa (73) was the country’s first black chief justice and an architect of South Africa’s Constitution. He died last week after battling ill health for some time.
The memorial service was attended by a senior Cabinet delegation headed by Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who was the main speaker.
The City Hall was packed with legal heavyweights, including Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, the General Council of the Bar’s Pops Aboobaker and a host of attorneys and advocates who had worked with Langa or grown up in his shadow.
Local political heads, led by KwaZulu-Natal Transport MEC Willies Mchunu, were also present, as was former police boss Bheki Cele.
Addressing the memorial, Judge Kenneth Mthiyane, Langa’s friend and junior when he was a senior advocate, described Langa, the father of six children, as a man with an “indomitable will” to fight injustice using the law.
“Pius gave his all to the struggle for liberation,” said Mthiyane. “His AK47 was located in his head. He had an indomitable will to serve his country by representing those who fought physically,” said Mthiyane.
Langa, Mthiyane said, “didn’t allow high office to go to his head” because of his ability, his principles, his modesty and his character.
Ilan Lax, a representative of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel), which Langa founded, said the former Nadel president was “truly awe-inspiring”.
Langa, he said, was acutely aware of the apartheid system’s need to use a legal framework to justify its actions and its existence.
In response, he helped turn the legal system and the courts into a “terrain of struggle”, using the trials of political accused to highlight the unfair nature of the system and to undermine and challenge apartheid legislation.
Human Rights Commissioner Lawrence Mushwana said Langa had played a key role during the constitutional-negotiations process and had helped to shape the post-apartheid legal system.
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