This is an edited version of the remarks made at the funeral of Judge Pius Langa on 3 August 2013.
Thank you for this opportunity to share deep condolences with the family of this ‘gentle giant’ whom we remember today. I do so, as a representative of the Christian ecumenical and inter-faith communities – and thanking Fr Molo, for being our preacher today.
I’d like to share some words from Psalm 37, which reflect my own personal journey with Pius. In March last year I was privileged to bless his new house. I referred then to these Bible verses, which also speak to us again today, as we mourn the death of this remarkable, and lovely, man. Psalm 37 contains these words:
‘If a man’s steps are guided by the Lord: and he delights in his way,
Though he stumble, he shall not fall headlong: for the Lord holds him by the hand …
For the Lord loves justice: he will not forsake his faithful ones.
Today we are celebrating the life of a man who, like our God, loved justice. And he loved justice in the way that God loves justice – true justice, which serves the genuine wellbeing of all people, ‘without fear or favour’. Perhaps better than anyone else I have ever met, Judge Pius understood the true meaning of the rule of law. He understood how the letter of the law must deliver the spirit of the law; in the service of Constitution, country and all its citizens. His view of justice, like God’s view, was that it must uphold the rights of the weak, the poor, the voiceless, the marginalised. It must pursue truth. It must promote – yes, I will use a religious word here – it must promote righteous living. It must encourage each of us to be the best we can be, for the good of all our brothers and sisters in South Africa. True justice does not lie in us using the law in order to justifying the maximum we can get away with, nor for our own advantage, regardless of the consequences for others. Nor should it ever become a screen behind which we can hide dubious actions.
I was privileged to get to know Judge Pius when I served on his Press Freedom Commission. From him, I learnt new insights into the inseparable nature of truthfulness and honesty – in both our speaking and our actions – and justice. It is clear that he let himself be guided by God’s own principles in his own highly principled life. We thank God for the gift Judge Pius was to our country, at a time when we most needed his insight and judgement, his generous spirit, his deep wisdom, his unwavering commitment to the highest possible standards of integrity and service.
If we are serious about honouring his legacy, then we too must ‘love justice’. We must choose the path of truth, of all that is good and right, of faithfulness to God, not only in our professional lives, but in every part. And we must speak up against anything less.
As I remember Pius, and all he meant to me, it is not so much what he said, but how he made you feel, that sticks with me and has lasting impact. And he made me feel valued, accorded God-given dignity, respected, someone with true equality before the law. He epitomised the scripture passage I have read – reminding me of Jesus’ promise that ‘blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ (Lk 11:28). Many of us today will say fine words, but will we keep them? Will we follow Pius’ example, and live by what we say, especially when we speak of lifting up the poorest of the poor, and embracing the most marginal? We speak also of offering our condolences, yet surely the greatest consolation we can offer to those who have loved him, is to learn from Pius and do as he did – living by the highest ethical standards, administered with truth, justice and fathomless mercy.
Today we mourn not only one of the finest legal brains our country has ever produced and an amazing intellectual, we also mourn a gentle, kind, delightful man, whose mind was always informed by his true heart and his faithful soul.
Therefore, though we are so sad he has left us, we draw comfort from the Psalmist’s words: ‘the Lord loves justice: he will not forsake his faithful ones’. Pius, true to his name, was a faithful child of God: and God will not forsake him, but will surely welcome him into his heavenly home, where there is fullness of joy and delight for evermore.
Well done, faithful servant of God. May you rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen