"Former chief justice Pius Nkonzo Langa was among a group of exceptional men and women honed in the crucible of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle who, when liberation came, were willing and able to selflessly serve their country and their people," said Tutu on Wednesday.
Langa died in Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg on Wednesday morning. He began his working life in a clothing factory, studied law by correspondence, was admitted as an advocate, helped found the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel), was appointed in 1994 as one of the 11 judges on the newly established Constitutional Court, and went on to serve with distinction as chief justice in South Africa's new democratic dispensation, said Tutu.
Tutu said as an advocate, he represented the underprivileged, civic associations, trade unions and people charged with political offences. "We thank God for Pius Langa, and send our deepest condolences to his children and grandchildren. His was a life well lived. May he rest in peace and rise in glory."
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said South Africa had lost a legal stalwart who dedicated his life to human rights and law. "His commitment to human rights and the rule of law was demonstrated through his relentless participation in various organisations and structures advocating for the practice of government regulated by a Constitution," he said.
He played a major role in the transition from apartheid to a constitutional and democratic era and contributed immensely in strengthening the independence of the judiciary and asserting its role as the cornerstone of the country's democracy.
"The country will miss his cogent contribution to the transformation of the judiciary," said Radebe.
The Helen Suzman Foundation said his presence would be sorely missed and his service not forgotten. "It remains for the new generation of lawyers and judges to continue where he, and those before him, have left off – embodying the best legal traditions of our country and our Constitution," the foundation said.
Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kieviet said in tribute: "He was never driven by the prestige of his chosen career but by the desire to protect the rights of all South Africans. The mark he has left will never be extinguished."
The Legal Resources Centre described him as a "quintessentially humane human being".
He did not let his "high office" as chief justice overshadow him and believed that different views were vital to shape and enhance one's own opinions.
General Council of the Bar of South Africa chairperson Ishmael Semenya said Langa had left an indelible mark in the country's constitutional jurisprudence.
"He has helped South Africa to carve for itself a respected place in the world's constitutional democracies.
"His humility as a person will be difficult to match. His legal acumen will remain a beacon for every lawyer to emulate and his legacy one that we as lawyers and as a nation must protect."
Principles of the Constitution
Nadel, which Langa helped co-found to defend anti-apartheid activists said: "His contribution to the justice system of South Africa can never be over-emphasised."
As an activist, legal representative to political prisoners, and advocate of human rights he strove for justice for all, and lived by the principles in the Constitution, said Nadel.
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said: "South Africa has lost a brave and gentle warrior for equality and social justice."
The Young Communist League noted his work as chairperson of the Press Freedom Commission on his retirement.
Parliament sent condolences to his friends and family and noted his role in establishing constitutional democracy.
The South African Communist Party said that pursuing his studies by correspondence should serve to inspire the country's youth to use what they had to empower others.
The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) said his work on the press freedom commission and jurisprudence while he was at the Constitutional Court for protection for freedom of speech and media, was greatly appreciated.
"Justice Langa helped to articulate the crucial role of a free media in sustaining other constitutional rights and democratic values, and to cement a legal framework that will secure it in years to come," Sanef chairperson Nic Dawes said.
"We celebrate that remarkable legacy even as we mourn his passing." – Sapa