Former chief justice Pius Langa dies aged 74

2013-07-24 10:49

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Former chief justice Pius Langa died this morning at the age of 74, his family said.

“The former chief justice of South Africa, justice Pius Langa, died this morning at the Milpark Hospital, Johannesburg,” his brother Mandla said in a statement.

He had been in hospital for about a month due to a long illness.

He retired in 2009 and went on to chair the Press Freedom Commission, which looked into regulation of the print media in South Africa.

Pius Nkonzo Langa was born in Bushbuckridge on March 25, 1939.

He went from a factory job to the country’s top judicial post after a long legal career.

He became deputy chief justice in 2001 and was appointed chief justice by then president Thabo Mbeki four yeas later, succeeding Arthur Chaskalson.

He began his career in law as a messenger in the justice department in 1960, after a three-year stint working in a shirt factory.

He went on to study for B Luris and LLB degrees, via correspondence, at the University of South Africa, and became an advocate in 1977.

Langa practised at the Natal Bar and was known for defending opponents of the apartheid regime. At the time, he was also actively involved in the United Democratic Front.

His biography on the Constitutional Court website also notes that he served on the executive committee of the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, was a founder member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, and served as its president from 1988 to 1994.

He served on the boards and as trustee of various law-related institutions, and was involved in founding the SA Legal Defence Fund.

Langa was part of the African National Congress’s constitutional committee and acted as an adviser during the so-called “talks about talks” at Groote Schuur and in Pretoria in the early 1990s.

He was a founder member of the Release Mandela Committee, and a member of the reception committees which worked to secure the release of other political prisoners.

He became a senior counsel in 1994, which was also the year newly-elected president Nelson Mandela appointed him to the Bench of the Constitutional Court.

In 1997, Langa became deputy president of the Constitutional Court, before the top positions at the court and the office of the chief justice merged a few years later.

The following year, he headed a commission formed by the Southern African Development Community to probe the general elections in Lesotho which sparked violence and a South African military intervention.

In 2000 he served as the Commonwealth’s special envoy to assist the Fiji Islands’ return to democracy.

He also formed part of constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

He was Chancellor of the University of Natal and of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Langa was given several awards for advancing justice and human rights, including the 2004 Justice Prize, with Chaskalson, by the Peter Gruber Foundation in the United States.

In 2008, Mbeki awarded him the Order of the Supreme Counsellor of the Baobab.

His brother Benjamin Langa was killed in 1984 by an Umkhonto we Sizwe operative on suspicion of being an informer.

Langa was married to Thandikile from 1966. She died in August 2009 at the age of 64. The couple had six children and many grandchildren.

Langa was the older brother of respected poet and author Mandla Langa.

His interests were listed by the court as walking, jogging, listening to music, reading and watching sport.

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