Pius Langa: an example to all
SOUTH Africa is fast losing a generation of men and women possessed of steadfast principles and moral courage. One such was Pius Langa, the former Chief Justice, who died this week at the age of 74.
His list of achievements is immense, having started out humbly in a shirt factory before becoming a messenger at a magistrate’s court, ascending to the highest court and finally, the highest judicial position in the land, until his retirement in 2009.
As his former colleague, deputy chief justice Dik- gang Moseneke, has said: “He was a remarkable jurist. He penned judgments well worth celebrating.”
But more than that, Langa was a “remarkable man… a quietly thoughtful person with an ample store of compassion and inner peace”.
His humanity carried over into his work. As Moseneke pointed out: “He understood that a judge must strive to reach a just outcome and to account to the people for it. He took seriously the promise of our Constitution for a better life and used it to shield or enrich the lives of its intended beneficiaries – we the people.”
Chosen by former President Nelson Mandela as one of the 11 judges to serve on the first Constitu- tional Court, Langa was fiercely protective of the independence of the judiciary and publicly stated that it should not be beholden to anybody. He would have been pained in recent years at the call for political oversight over the judiciary he loved and served so diligently.
Our criminal justice system – of which the courts form a crucial pillar – is faced with a crisis of credibility, shaken by upheaval brought on by a series of inappropriate and disastrous appointments amid political intrigues. The turmoil has tarnished the image of the legal system in the eyes of the public . The legacy of Langa stands. The challenge is for our jurists and politicians to live up to his sterling contribution to building our constitutional democracy.