5 December 2012

South Africa: Parliament Pays Tribute to Chaskalson

Photo: Centre for Human Rights
Arthur Chaskalson.

Cape Town — Parliament has paid tribute to Judge Arthur Chaskalson, South Africa's former Chief Justice and first President of the Constitutional Court.

Justice Chaskalson passed away on Saturday after battling with leukaemia. President Jacob Zuma is expected to address a memorial service in Johannesburg this afternoon.

Parliament called Justice Chaskalson one of South Africa's extraordinary sons, praising him for selflessly serving the cause of social justice, non-racialism and democracy.

Justice Chaskalson was born in November 1931. His life was a story of human excellence and achievement.

"He was an unyielding force for good and his life's purpose was to remake South Africa into a just and free beacon of hope for the oppressed.

"He succeeded in this mission. He constructed, together with others, an unshakeable foundation which has come to define our place as a proud member of the nations of the world," said Parliament in a statement on Tuesday.

Reflecting on his passing, Parliament said Judge Chaskalson had had many moments in his life which brought much joy and pain.

He was in the legal team at the Rivonia trial in 1963 that defended 10 African National Congress leaders, including former President Nelson Mandela.

Decades later he was to be the one to invest in Nelson Mandela as the country's first democratically elected President.

In his relentless pursuit for justice and human rights for all South Africans, he founded the Legal Resources Centre, a non-profit organisation at the forefront of fighting a number of human rights abuse cases during apartheid rule.

It followed, then, that he would contribute significantly to crafting our current constitutional democracy, in which all, including Parliament, is subservient to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

He was a deserving recipient of a number of high profile national and international awards, including the award of Supreme Counsellor of the Baobab (gold), a national honour, for his dedication to humanity and his dedication to the nation.

"His death, coming mere days after that of another noble contributor to the our democracy, former University of the Western Cape rector and vice-chancellor Professor Jakes Gerwel, is even more poignant because it reminds us afresh of the long road we have travelled - and must still travel - towards realising our goal of a South Africa in which everyone is free to fulfil their destiny," Parliament said.

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