THE legal fraternity is mourning the death of human rights lawyer Rudolph Jansen, who fought against injustice on behalf of the poor and marginalised for more than three decades, including with respect to the abolition of the death penalty, prison reform and land reform.
He was a long-standing member and former national director of Lawyers for Human Rights.
Jansen, who leaves his wife Mariana, and two sons Rudolph and Gustav, died on Saturday in Limpopo, where he was consulting with the Moletele Land Claim Community. He was 53 years old.
Jansen was born on New Year’s Day in 1964. He grew up in Pretoria, where he lived throughout his life.
He completed his law studies at the University of Pretoria, and as a young advocate with the Pretoria Bar, quickly turned his attention to combating issues of inequality and injustice that were a hallmark of the apartheid state.
His early and extensive pro bono work for Lawyers for Human Rights was representative of his commitment to the realisation of human rights in South Africa, which defined his career.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Jansen joined other Lawyers for Human Rights to prevent the execution of political activists who were facing the death penalty. In those days Lawyers for Human Rights aimed at delaying executions, hopefully for long enough until the death penalty was eventually abolished.
With its abolition in 1995, Jansen assisted Lawyers for Human Rights to expand its focus to unaddressed issues, including the awful conditions in prisons.
With fellow human rights lawyers, Jansen challenged overcrowding, abusive practices like indefinite solitary confinement and other violations.
In 2003, Jansen took over as nat- ional director of Lawyers for Human Rights. He led the organisation for five years through a challenging period of transition and growth. Throughout, he remained a tireless champion of under-served communities in South Africa, inspiring the same commitment from his colleagues.
When his tenure ended, Jansen resumed his practice at the Pretoria Bar, achieving senior status in 2014.
He developed a wide-ranging practice centred on human rights and public interest law, representing landless communities, unlawfully evicted people, and human rights defenders, among many others.
Jansen was a legendary cross-examiner and many police officers experienced his piercing technique.
Like many human rights lawyers, not all litigation was met with success, but that came with the territory.
Jansen’s work in recent years focused increasingly on the furtherance of South African land reform and restitution, to which he made an immeasurable contribution.
His commitment to the successful implementation and achievement of this constitutional project saw him involved in ground-breaking cases addressing issues like post-settlement support and market-related pricing within the government’s willing-seller, willing-buyer policies.
The impact of this work extended well beyond the development of novel legal principles and academic debate: his tireless commitment in this arena made a difference in the lives of thousands, and saw families provided with homes, the dispossessed returned to their land, and communities provided with hope.
Jansen’s advocacy in many of South Africa’s ground-breaking housing cases helped to ensure fair process and entrenched the right of dignity for many of the country’s marginalised.
His latest involvement in legal challenges seeking to ensure the equitable distribution of the country’s mining benefits to affected communities represented the next step in his personal and professional quest for justice on behalf of those whose voices have historically been muted.
He was known for his passion and respect for his clients, and for his refusal to shy away from a fight against those more powerful on behalf of the most marginalised in our society.
He was an inspiration to many activists and human rights lawyers over the course of his life, and leaves behind a legion of individuals committed to taking forward his work and vision for a just and equal society.
But beyond these outstanding professional accomplishments, what gave Jansen the greatest source of pride and joy was his family, and especially his wife and sons.
Those of us who knew Jansen feel humbled to have known this great man.
The legacy of his work to quietly push for a more just society will continue to the next generation of human rights lawyers. Hamba kahle, Comrade Jansen.
Van Garderen is the head of Lawyers for Human Rights, Pretoria.