A life dedicated to justice for all
ARTHUR CHASKALSON: FITTING TRIBUTE TO A GIANT
Sadly, author Stephen Ellman died before the book was published.
Achampion of social change, human rights and fighter for the downtrodden is an apt description of the immense contribution made by Arthur Chaskalson – South Africa’s first chief justice.
In his book – A Life Dedicated to Justice for All – author Stephen Ellman, Chaskalson’s former friend and colleague, lays bare all we need to know about one of South Africa’s legal giants who played a crucial role in the shaping of the country’s constitution.
From how he grew up, his student life at Wits University where he attained an LLB degree, becoming advocate at the Johannesburg Bar, being part of the team that defended Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Treason Trial, founding the Legal Resources Centre, to later becoming the first post democracy chief justice – Ellman has truly done a good job. No one could have done it better than Ellman.
The late son of an English professor who worked so hard on the Chaskalson project but did not live to see the publication of the book, after succumbing to cholangiocarcinoma disease.
Chaskalson himself would have been so proud to see how much impact he had on his colleagues, friends and the country, so well chronicled in the book, with some insightful quotes by other veteran lawyers, some of whom grew up and went to school with him.
These include George Bizos, Geoff Budlender, Edwin Cameron, Dennis Davis, Joel Joffe, Denis Kuny and Gilbert Marcus – among many others.
“The invitation to write Arthur’s biography meant a lot to me because I had valued my friendship with him so much,” said Ellman. “But it had an additional meaning, one that went back much further in my life.
“In a classic irony of life, at almost the same moment I was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma – a rare cancer arising from the bile duct that can be particularly insidious and lethal – the invitation came.
“The Chaskalsons might have chosen to withdraw the invitation, but they did not.”
In the book, there are certain attributes of Chaskalson which many were unaware of. These include his passion for sport – soccer and tennis in particular – travelling and being shy.
Mary was an extrovert who ensured that all the doors were open for his son to succeed in life.
The impressive 841-page biography with a cover picture of Chaskalson shaking the hand of Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium shortly after his release from Robben Island, is a must read.
Former president Thabo Mbeki says: “Long before assuming the office of chief justice of South Africa, Arthur Chaskalson worked hard to lay the foundation for a South Africa that would truly belong to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”
Says Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng: “Chaskalson’s contribution and passion for the development of the country’s jurisprudence and its legal institutions cannot be overemphasised.”
Author Stephen Ellman