Pius Nkonzo Langa (1939 - )
The Order of the Baobab in
Profile of Pius Nkonzo Langa
Pius Nkonzo Langa was born in the then Eastern Transvaal on 25 March 1939. Hard-working and committed to learning, he matriculated through private studies in 1960. He obtained his B Juris from the University of South Africa in 1973 and his LLB in 1976. He worked in a shirt factory from 1957 to 1960 but then found employment as an interpreter and messenger for the Department ofJustice. He worked his way up to serving as a prosecutor and a magistrate.
Langa resigned from the department in April 1977 and was admitted as an advocate of the Supreme Court in Natal in June 1977. He practised at the Durban Bar and became senior counsel in January 1994.
He took on civil and criminal matters, but political trials were always within his sights in the light of the injustices embedded in the South African political system. He appeared in most of the more significant political trials – mostly in Natal, the Eastern Cape and Cape Town.
His practice reflected the struggle against apartheid: his clientele included the underprivileged, civic bodies, trade unions and peoplecharged under security legislation.
Langa was a member of the Democratic Lawyers’ Association and served on its executive. In 1987, he served on the steering committee that preceded the formation of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) and later became a founder member of Nadel and served as its president from 1988 until his resignation in 1994.
Langa was appointed a Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in October 1994, becoming Deputy President of the Court in August 1997 and Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa in November 2001. He became Chief Justice in June 2005.
He has been awarded honorary Law Doctorates by a number of universities, including the University of Cape Town. In October 1998,he was installed as the chancellor of the University of Natal. He has also served on several boards and as a trustee of various legal institutions, such as the Community Legal Services Unit.
He was a founder member of the Release Mandela Committee (Natal) and served on the committees formed to accelerate and prepare for the release of political prisoners.
Langa served in the United Democratic Front. He was involved in the work of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa and its successor, the Multi-party Negotiations Forum.
He served as a commissioner of the Human Rights Commission for several years, and attended, participated in and organised conferences, workshops and seminars on human rights issues in South Africa and abroad.
He was also a member of the constitutional committee of the African National Congress and was part of the adviser group during the Groote Schuur and Pretoria "talks-about-talks".
In 1998, he was appointed chairperson of the Commission which investigated the Lesotho elections on behalf of the Southern African Development Community.
In 2000, he was appointed the Commonwealth's special envoy to assist the Fiji Islands' return to democracy. He has participated in constitutional review commissions in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe; and has taken part in conferences and workshops in a number of countries. He is a member of the Judicial Integrity Group, responsible for the drafting of the Bangalore Principles forJudicial Ethics.
Pius Nkonzo Langa has always been involved in attempts to improve the quality of life of his fellow South Africans. He has helped organise civic organisations and townships residents' associations, and has given guidance to youth and recreational clubs. His colourful legal career has been largely at the service of the disadvantaged and oppressed.
He is married to Thandekile and they have six children.