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SMU to confer honorary degree to former South African Chief Justice

Pius Nkonzo Langa
Justice Pius Nkonzo Langa

April 28, 2011

DALLAS (SMU) — The Honorable Justice Pius Nkonzo Langa of South Africa will receive the honorary Doctor of Laws degree at SMU's 96th Commencement ceremony May 14 at 9:30 a.m. in Moody Coliseum on the University's campus.

The Commencement speaker is United States Sen. John Cornyn.

"An important part of the Commencement tradition is the conferring of honorary degrees upon distinguished individuals who have made extraordinary contributions in their fields," said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. "This year's honoree represents outstanding personal achievement as the first black chief justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Throughout his career, he worked tirelessly to advance human rights in his native country and around the world, providing our graduates with a strong role model for the blending of career and public service."

Pius Nkonzo Langa, the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, has dedicated his life to supporting human rights and democracy, and opposing the system of apartheid. Langa obtained his B Juris and LL B degrees from the University of South Africa, and began a career in the Department of Justice, rising from office messenger to magistrate.

Admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa in June 1977, he attained the rank of Senior Counsel in January 1994. In addition, Langa served as a founding member of the Release Mandela Committee, helped found the South African Legal Defense Fund and served as a Commissioner of the Human Rights Committee.

Appointed in 1994 by President Nelson Mandela as one of the first judges on the new Constitutional Court of South Africa, Langa eventually became Deputy President of the Court in 1997, Deputy Chief Justice in 2004 and Chief Justice in 2005, holding the latter position until retiring in 2009.

Langa also served as Special Envoy to assist the Fiji Islands' return to democracy, and participated in constitutional review commissions in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Tanzania. He served as Chancellor at the University of Natal from 1998-2004 and at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University from 2005 to 2010.

Also receiving an honorary degree from SMU this year is the Dalai Lama, renowned spiritual leader of Tibet and Nobel laureate. His Holiness will receive his degree during a special ceremony at McFarlin Auditorium on May 9.

SMU expects to award nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees to students at the University-wide Commencement ceremony. The University's schools and departments will hold individual diploma ceremonies later that day.


SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

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