Former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson fulfilled his mission to help create a better South Africa, President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday.
“Justice Arthur Chaskalson has run his race and fulfilled his mission to contribute to building a better South Africa in which all are treated with dignity,” he told mourners at a memorial service for Chaskalson in Johannesburg.
Zuma said despite his “sharp mind”, Chaskalson would be remembered for his compassion and humility.
“We came to terms with the reality that a colossus who has done so much for this country and its people, was no more.
“Together with his peers... Chaskalson helped demolish the legal fortress upon which apartheid was built, and built the foundation on which our constitutional order is premised.”
Zuma said Chaskalson had inspired the government to reverse the legacy of inequality, poverty and under-development.
Chaskalson's friend and colleague George Bizos SC said the former chief justice did not belong to a political party.
“There were no secrets between Arthur and me. I know he was not a member of any political party.”
Bizos said it was incorrect to say Chaskalson secretly belonged to a political party, because this meant that important information about him was not open to the public.
“This is not the Arthur that I know.”
The SA Communist Party earlier in the week claimed that Chaskalson was secretly a member of the party in the 1960s.
Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC, who spoke on behalf on the General Council of the Bar, said Chaskalson would not have joined any organisations.
“In recent days there has been an attempt to claim... (that he was a part of) one grouping.
“Arthur, like (actor and comedian) Groucho Marx would never belong to a club that would have him as a member. He was over and above such things.” Gauntlett said Chaskalson was the “truly great advocate of his time”, who had a legacy of being courteous.
“He could deflate your tyres when you were not looking, but he did so always with that grace and courtesy.”
Gauntlett said Chaskalson had not succumbed to the “trappings of power”.
“(He showed) how you can be the president of the Constitutional Court and drive what the court clerks called a Toyota 'skedonk' (jalopy).”
Former chief justice Pius Langa said Chaskalson had not wavered in his pursuit of justice.
“He did not just speak, he believed in doing.”
He said the Legal Resources Centre and the Constitutional Court stood as memorials to all he had done to fight for justice in the country.
Legal Resources Centre representative Janet Love spoke of Chaskalson's role in the creation of the centre, and how it defended the rights of those oppressed by apartheid laws.
Chaskalson died at the age of 81 in Johannesburg on Saturday, reportedly of leukaemia.
He was the first president of the Constitutional Court and was chief justice from November 2001 until he retired in 2005.
In 2002, he was awarded the Order of the Baobab, one of the highest accolades the government gives to a South African citizen.
He was buried on Monday in a private, but special official funeral, at West Park cemetery, Johannesburg. - Sapa