Cape Town.190707.Arthur Chaskalson accepts the Human Rights award at the Mandela Awards for Health and Human Rights 2007. Picture:Sophia Stander Reporter:John Yeld/Cape Times

Johannesburg - Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson was one of the founding fathers of South Africa's constitutional democracy, former state president FW de Klerk said on Monday.

“In this capacity, he played a leading role in developing the independent, non-racial and transformative culture that continues to characterise our highest court,” De Klerk said in a statement.

Chaskalson had been a principled campaigner for human rights throughout his career.

“Before 1994, he defended many opponents of apartheid including the Rivonia trialists in 1963.”

De Klerk said Chaskalson had also played a key role as an adviser in the negotiations which led to the adoption of the 1993 Constitution.

“However, it was in his role as president of the Constitutional Court and subsequently Chief Justice in the crucial years between 1994 and 2005 that he made his greatest contribution to the establishment and nurturing of our non-racial constitutional democracy,” he said.

Chaskalson died at the age of 81 in Johannesburg on Saturday, reportedly of leukaemia.

De Klerk said Chaskalson had continued to firmly and judiciously oppose any attempts to undermine the independence of the judiciary even after his retirement.

He said his family learned with great sorrow of Chaskalson's death on Saturday.

“Elita and I would like to convey our most sincere condolences to former Chief Justice Chaskalson's family and friends”.