Pius Langa taught us that the law is meant to serve the people

My most vivid memory of the former chief justice, Pius Langa, who passed away on Wednesday, was of a case which was heard at the Constitutional Court.

The case related to two pieces of legislation which altered the boundary between the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the province of the Eastern Cape in such a way that the Matatiele Local Municipality was transferred from KwaZulu-Natal to the Eastern Cape. At the heart of the case was the challenge to the constitutional validity of the legislation and service delivery issues.

The court was unusually packed that day with residents of Matatiele – women wrapped in blankets and some of the men in the audience had fallen asleep due to fatigue as a result of the long journey they had undertaken overnight in buses to reach Johannesburg in time for the start of the proceedings.

In the late afternoon, at the end of the long proceedings, Langa remarked in Zulu that the court was thankful to the residents of Matatiele for having travelled such a long distance to listen to technical legal arguments with great patience, notwithstanding their fatigue.

On completing his remarks, the court roared with applause. There was a sense that the court belonged to all people – not just the powerful. It was a moving moment.

May his soul rest in peace. Psalm 34:18.

Nombulelo Beauchamp was a law clerk to Justice Yakoob between 2005 and 2006 in the Constitutional Court of South Africa

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