The Law faculty rubber-stamped the process to rename some of its rooms after pre-eminent South African law scholars and anti-apartheid struggle stalwarts during Africa Day celebrations hosted at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Kramer building on 25 May.
The faculty took a giant leap in realising its transformative purpose when it unveiled two meeting rooms bearing the names of lawyer and activist Victoria Mxenge and Rivonia trial defence lawyer Bram Fischer. The palatial quad has been named after former Constitutional Court Chief Justice Pius Langa.
With large smiles on their faces, the families were joined by several members of UCT’s top management at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Mxenge was born in 1942 in Qonce, Eastern Cape. She was admitted as an attorney in 1981 and was part of the defence team in the 1984 treason trial against leaders of the United Democratic Front and the Natal Indian Congress.
“It’s been an honour and privilege being here,” said Mxenge’s granddaughter, Khaya Mxenge, who attended the event with some of her family members.
After cutting the ribbon to officially open the sixth-floor seminar room, Khaya remarked that the renaming means that Mxenge’s presence and vision lives on.
“What she fought for is what many people resonate with.”
In 2006, Mxenge was posthumously awarded the Order of Luthuli in Silver for her excellent contribution to the field of law and sacrifices made in the fight against apartheid oppression in South Africa.
Fischer was born Abraham Louis Fischer in 1908 and fully immersed himself in politics by the 1940s. He was the lead legal defence counsel at the prominent Rivonia Trial (1963–1964) where a host of predominantly black South African political leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment.
He died in 1975.
“They represent the best of the legal fraternity.”
“The actual naming represents an opportunity for deep reflection on what our institution represents. We needed to rename these spaces to give effect to our vision of inclusion; but also, to inspire our students and staff,” said the dean of the Law faculty, Professor Danwood Chirwa.
He added: “We are most grateful to the families of the three South African icons that we are honouring. They represent the best in the legal fraternity.”
Fischer’s daughters, Ilse and Ruth, are thrilled that their father is being lauded not just as an activist, but also as a shrewd lawyer.
“He was a really thorough lawyer. One of the staff members was saying to me that by just looking at his legal arguments, you could see how meticulous he was and clear in thinking and that’s a side that isn’t often recognised,” said Ruth.
Fight against injustice
“What they had in common was a devotion in support of the fight against injustice and the vision of a democratic society where civil rights are protected. Each made enormous personal sacrifices in pursuit of their calling,” said Vice-Chancellor (Interim) Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy.
“We honour, remember, and remind people who these individuals are.”
Justice Langa was part of the very first appointed judges of the Constitutional Court after its formation in 1994. He went through the ranks until assuming the position of Chief Justice between 2005 and 2009.
In April 2008 Justice Langa was awarded the Order of the Baobab in Gold for “his exceptional service in law, constitutional jurisprudence and human rights”.
He died in 2013.
His eldest daughter, Phumzile Langa-Gumbi, said: “It is an honour to know that there is an institution of higher learning that has chosen to keep Justice Pius Langa’s name alive. For the family, it is huge.
It feels like we are reclaiming what’s ours; we are celebrating our heroes on a day that celebrates Africa.
“What he was passionate about was access. His was about people living their lives and being able to grow and carry on.”
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