Speech delivered by President Jacob Zuma at the joint sitting of parliament to bid farewell to former Chief Justice Pius Langa and welcome the new Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu,
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Mninwa Mahlangu,
Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe,
Former Chief Justice, Pius Langa,
Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo,
Honourable Members,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a privilege for me to say a few words on this important occasion.

We gather here in this august house to bid farewell to Chief Justice Pius Langa, and to welcome the new Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcobo.

It is rare that we have an opportunity for members of all three arms of government to address this house.

This is an indication of the importance that we attach to this moment in the life of our democracy.

It is also an indication of the critical role of the judiciary as a pillar of our constitutional order.

This occasion is testimony also to the high regard in which retiring Chief Justice Pius Langa is held.

Justice Langa has served our country and its people for many years.

He was one of the first eleven judges appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the Constitutional Court when it was established.

He has therefore been a vital part of the birth and development of constitutional jurisprudence in a democratic South Africa.

In all his time in the Constitutional Court he has served our country and our people in an outstanding and remarkable manner, with dedication and commitment.

It was because of his commitment and dedication that he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Republic and head of the Constitutional Court in June 2005, taking over from Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson.

We applaud the exceptional contribution that Justice Langa has made to the Constitutional Court during his tenure as its head.

Today we are also paying tribute to Justice Langa for the role that he has played in the struggle for democracy in our country.

For many years he has been a champion and defender of people's rights.

He represented many of our people in the courts of apartheid South Africa.

His clients were the underprivileged, the marginalised, workers, and people charged for political offences.

We especially remember his role as one of the progressive lawyers who fought for justice in the face of apartheid's laws.

He was a founder member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) and served as its President.

He also participated in the major campaigns of the United Democratic Front, and was part of the Release Mandela Campaign.

Justice Langa was deeply involved in the process of negotiating the end of apartheid, participating in the work of CODESA and the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum.

Justices, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In a long and distinguished career, it is Justice Langa's time at the helm of the Constitutional Court that will stand out for years to come.

He inherited a vital state institution in a young democracy.

He worked to ensure that justice was strengthened through the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court is today one of the most respected institutions in our country.

Our people have confidence that it is able to rule on critical and controversial cases without fear, favour or prejudice.

Throughout his term of office Justice Langa has ensured that the independence of the judiciary is not compromised.

As he leaves the Constitutional Court we thank him most sincerely for his exceptional contribution.

We know that Justice Langa leaves the court in the hands of another capable judge, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.

We wish to take this opportunity to welcome Justice Ngcobo.

We wish to thank him for taking on this huge responsibility.

We believe his credentials and his extensive experience will stand him in good stead for the tasks that lie ahead.

Our judiciary is in good hands indeed.

Justice Ngcobo has an outstanding track record in defending the marginalised and in upholding human dignity and human rights.

We are confident that he will oversee the application of justice in a fair and balanced manner.

In this task, Justice Ngcobo is assisted by many capable colleagues, both in the Constitutional Court and in the judiciary more broadly.
As Justice Ngcobo assumes office, the country continues to face a number of challenges in its efforts to ensure access to justice for all.

Our government must ensure that even the poorest of the poor have access to the courts, that they receive quality justice, and that they attain relief speedily.

The issue of the transformation of the judiciary remains one of central challenge that we must continue to address.

We know that transformation is not an event but a prolonged struggle.

This struggle must further entrench the independence of the judiciary, for which so many of our people fought.

This struggle must promote human rights, social justice and dignity for all.

This must be reflected in the manner that justice is dispensed.
We must realise the right of equal access to justice for all South Africans, rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural, educated or illiterate.

The task of the women and men on the bench is to ensure that the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law prevail at all times.

In doing so, they can be assured of the support and cooperation of all South Africans.

These are some of the issues that the courts have been grappling with in the past and will continue to tackle as we move forward.

Justices, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I finish, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to declare the 18th of July 'Nelson Mandela International Day'.

The resolution, adopted by consensus, calls for commemorations every year, starting in 2010, to recognise Madiba's contribution to resolving conflicts and promoting race relations, human rights and reconciliation.

We wish to thank the countries of the world for responding favourably to the request we made at the UN General Assembly in September.

In closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish Justice Pius Langa a well-earned and restful retirement.

I wish Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo a successful and productive tenure as the head of our judiciary.

As government, we are committed to work together with all components of the justice system to realise the rights contained in our Constitution.

We are committed to safeguard the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

Working together, we can achieve the cherished goal of justice and equal rights for all.

I thank you.

Issued by:
The Presidency
Cape Town