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Tue Sep 01 03:53:38 SAST 2015

Chaskalson's legacy must not be trampled into dust

The Times Editorial | 03 December, 2012 00:03

The Times Editorial: Rivonia triallist Ahmed Kathrada said on news of the death of South Africa's former chief justice Arthur Chaskalson that South Africa would be poorer without him because his brilliance and wisdom were still greatly needed.

Kathrada's words about the man who defended him during the Rivonia trial will ring true for many South Africans.

As one of the founding fathers of the Constitutional Court, Chaskalson played an immense and invaluable role in ensuring a lasting break with the apartheid past and laws.

And it is here that the memory of Chaskalson's contribution should be recognised and honoured - by ensuring that the court remains an independent arbiter of the rights and responsibilities of all citizens.

The criticism that various senior ANC members have launched against the court - and the subsequent announcement of a judicial review - is a direct contradiction of the values and obligations of the court and its judges.

In a speech last month Chaskalson set out his criticism of the Legal Practice Bill, which seeks to place advocates and attorneys under a governmental framework.

He said: "Constitutions are written for the future. One of the lessons of history is that rights are vulnerable, and when governments come under stress there is a temptation for them to brush rights aside, in order to secure their goals and entrench their power. That is why democratic legal orders have checks and balances to guard against this. We cannot foresee the future."

South Africa, now more than ever, needs the courage and independence of patriots like Chaskalson whose wisdom reminds us how far we have travelled from a rule of law that was patently unfair and unequally applied.

And, most importantly, how imperative it is never to return to that time - however tempting our leaders in government might find it to manipulate laws to suit their agendas.


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