Death of a colossus

2012-12-02 10:00

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Former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson (81) dies of cancer

South Africa yesterday staggered under the news that Judge Arthur Chaskalson had passed away.

“As South Africa, we have lost a point of reference”, said friend and former Chief Justice Pius Langa.

An internationally acclaimed legal mind, Chaskalson represented former president Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial.

He was admitted to Milpark Hospital with leukaemia about two weeks ago, and passed away yesterday morning.

Chaskalson was appointed by Mandela as the first president of the Constitutional Court, and later the second chief justice when the two positions were combined.

His death was met with shock.

Langa said the way “he presided over cases, his gentleness as a human being, his integrity in leading that great institution, the Constitutional Court, made it what it is today”.

Lifelong friend and colleague George Bizos said he visited Chaskalson in hospital recently. “He wanted to know how the Marikana case was going.

I asked the doctor what the prognosis was. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head, and that meant to me he had not too many days to live.”

Former Constitutional Court Judge Yvonne Mokgoro, who served with Chaskalson, said his work as a defence lawyer “contributed to the achievement of the aims of the struggle; he was actually a struggle veteran”.

Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer described Chaskalson as a person who “was so alive, not in a flamboyant way, but in such a deep, wonderful and encouraging way”.

Gordimer said that Chaskalson always believed that things could get better and “never despaired”.

“He never faltered, never retreated into a personal life, he always belonged to all of us,” Gordimer said, describing Chaskalson as a close friend, who was also “everybody in South Africa’s friend; he stood for justice for all”.

Justice Edwin Cameron said Chaskalson was a “formidable man, both intellectually and morally”.

“He was enormously hard-working and had a rigorous moral temperament. Chaskalson was the only colleague I went to see, before my appointment as a judge in 1994, to say I have HIV and he encouraged me to apply and to make public my statement on my HIV status at the Judicial Service Commission interview.”

Civil society activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele said Chaskalson had set a very high standard for jurists.

“In Arthur we have lost a giant in the legal history of this country. His enormous contribution as an advocate, and later as a jurist, are without peer.”

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng praised Chaskalson’s continued participation in the development of the judiciary.

“Chief Justice Chaskalson’s contribution and passion for the development of the country’s jurisprudence and its legal institutions cannot be overemphasised and will forever be cherished.

“He was a fine human being, a good teacher and a man of immense integrity who was renowned the world over as a great leader and champion of human rights,” Mogoeng said.

President Jacob Zuma has also extended his condolences to Chaskalson’s family.

“Arthur Chaskalson’s life embraced a courageous role in the fight against apartheid, in our negotiated transition and the shaping of our constitutional democracy,” the president said.

He is survived by his wife Lorraine and sons Matthew and Jerome.

– Additional reporting by Mandy Rossouw and Adriaan Basson

- City Press

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