Farewell to a great SA fighter

2012-12-04 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s political and judicial elite buried any electioneering differences they had to pay their last tribute to Arthur Chaskalson in a rainy Johannesburg yesterday.

Chaskalson, former chief justice of the Constitutional Court, was buried in the Jewish part of the Westpark cemetery in Johannesburg.

Among the mourners was his widow Lorraine, his two sons, advocate Matthew Chaskalson and Jerome Chaskalson, and their spouses, as well as several prominent politicians and judges.

In the packed synagogue, people nodded in agreement when a tribute, which had been written by Graça Machel on behalf of former president Nelson Mandela and herself, was read.

The letter said Arthur had shared in the road to freedom of both Madiba and South Africa. The Mandelas said he was a wonderful friend and it was a pleasure for them to see how his contribution to let justice prevail was now being honoured.

In keeping with Jewish practice, the pallbearers kept changing from the synagogue to the grave. The first pallbearers were President Jacob Zuma, former president Thabo Mbeki, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, former chief justice Pius Langa, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe,Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi, Gill Marcus, governor of the Reserve Bank, and Judge Lex Mpati, president of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

As the bearers carried Chaskalson’s casket to the grave through drizzling rain, the queue of new bearers included advocate Wim Trengove SC and the artist William Kentridge.

The earpieces worn by several bodyguards contrasted with Jewish skullcaps as they kept pace with the politicians while armed police officers kept and eye on proceedings.

The rain stopped just before the service around the open grave started, and Rabbi Robert Ash read from the Book of Psalms, including Psalm 23.

Lorraine Chaskalson sobbed as she scattered the first handful of dirt on her husband’s casket. Her sons, daughters-in-law Jackie and Suzie and grandson Raphael then scattered dirt into the grave before President Zuma and former president Mbeki got a chance.

The shirts of Chaskalson’s sons were torn to show their grief according to Jewish tradition.

After the service, an emotional advocate George Bizos SC also paid tribute to his longtime colleague and friend. He said the world would see Chaskalson as one of the legal philosophers of the century. “Above all, he always asked the question: ‘What is right and what is wrong for this country.’ That was his credo.”

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