Judge Edwin Cameron is a famous figure and hero in the fight against discrimination in all its diabolical forms. In South Africa his name has become synonymous with the word’s warrior, hero and champion. He was born in 1953 in Peoria, South Africa. Soon after losing his father to jail and his mother to financial woes, ended up in an orphanage. This scared little boy would decide at that moment that he begin his lifelong fight and crusade over the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. He would soon see himself excelling and rising above those obstacles and from the ashes like a phoenix and make a name for himself through academic success. From then on, he learned to fight from his tough early beginnings and rise above it and move forward and pave the way for others to benefit. He gave profound meaning to Nelson Mandela’s famous quote, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
These brief accounts are about the heroic acts of one person, one judge, and one gay man which led to the fight for his own life. This is a brief journey into the unstoppable will of one man that knew it was either going to be him or no one else. An undeniable hero of every citizen of South Africa, and a world example to be imitated. This is a story of how one man made a direct impact and in people’s lives by either freeing it or saving it in South Africa. He not only fought in the trenches against apartheid but alongside that battle, he also silently fought to save his own life from AIDS and began to write and enact legislation that would save the lives of millions of people dying of homophobic violence and of AIDS.
He took on the mammoth task of delegalized legislation that would make it a criminal (sodomy) an ages old law used only and enforced on gay men. He struggled and won the de-legalization of the law which was considered at the time a crime tantamount to larger crimes such as murder and rape and punishable by death or 30 years in prison. You’ll read how he not only saved his own life, but he set in motion legislation that would make the expensive antiviral treatment FREE and available to anyone with HIV and/or AIDS in South Africa. Saving the lives of millions of people.
Judge Cameron proved he was a hero, long before the day that he was labeled one by Nelson Mandela. Mandela hailed him as, “one of South Africa’s new heroes”. As an openly gay man and judge since the 1980s, Judge Cameron has been an activist for gay pride in the times where the gay community was hurt by stigma, criticism, violence, incarceration and death. In 1990 he addressed the crowds at the first gay parade in South Africa and was the founder of The Society for Homosexuals on Campus, a society for gay academics, students and outsiders at Wits University, which is now known as Activate Wits along with a plethora of other groups and organizations since then. He had at that time come out as a gay man but not as a gay man suffering with HIV/AIDS.
Judge Edwin Cameron achieved so much not only to help the gay community but to help the citizens of South Africa with AIDS, and he did this while battling his own struggles with the then deadly virus. He came-out not only as a gay man but then bravely came-out as a gay man, judge battling full HIV/AIDS since his abrupt learning that he had contracted the deadly virus in the early 80’s. He contracted the HIV/AIDS virus and then facing his own death in the late 80’s and early 90’s and the antiviral treatment that saved his life. All the while being a well loved and respected public figure. He kept it a secret while starting his legal mission and crusade to legislate in favor of those living silently with HIV/AIDS. He started in 1988 when Cameron advised the National Union of Mineworkers on HIV/AIDS, and helped draft and negotiate the industry’s first comprehensive AIDS agreement with the Chamber of Mines. While at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, he drafted the Charter of Rights on AIDS and HIV, co-founded the AIDS Consortium (a national affiliation of non-governmental organizations working in AIDS), which he chaired for its first three years, and founded and was the first director of the AIDS Law Project.
Cameron acknowledging in secret that his salary and relative wealth allowed him to live; being able to afford anti-retroviral treatment, in a country where AIDS was killing all those who had contracted the HIV virus. Cameron’s realization that he owed his life to his relative wealth caused him to become a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in pre and post-apartheid South Africa, urging its government to provide treatment to all. He had strongly criticized President Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS-denialist policies. Cameron was the first, and remains the only, senior South African official to state publicly that he is living with HIV/AIDS.
His prize-winning first book, Witness to AIDS, is about his struggle with the illness. It has been published and released since March of 2005. Thereafter, globally, the UK, the US and in translation in Germany and in China. A book that he would write because of a variety of different reasons, first and foremost he said was the reason he explained in detail after winning the 2006 Paton Award. He said, “I love being a judge. The intellectual challenges are exhilarating … But I am not only a judge. I am also living with Aids. I am still the only public office bearer in South Africa to have chosen to make public my HIV status. I felt I was called to witness. I felt called to account for my survival in a country in which hundreds of thousands were dying. I did not feel I should remain silent.”
Part memoir, part thought-provoking analysis, Witness to AIDS is Judge Edwin Cameron’s revealing account of living with Aids. He vividly explores what HIV/Aids means – for him as he faces the possibility of lingering death, for all of us in facing one of the biggest challenges of our time. Edwin Cameron’s life story is one of despair turning to hope. He escaped a tough childhood, partly spent in a children’s home, to become a prominent human rights lawyer, only to be tested for HIV without his knowledge and abruptly informed of his positive HIV-status. He did not share this with anyone for many years, suffering unbearable shame, which he argues is the source of the terrible stigma that still clings to AIDS.
In Witness to AIDS, he explains his decision to go public and to accept anti-retroviral treatment, in a country beset by “denialism”. He takes a critical look at what is so different about African Aids; at the divergent reactions of Mandela and Mbeki to the crisis; the role of international pharmaceutical companies; the intricacies of “race, sex, death and Africa”; and the impact of South Africa’s largest activist group, the Treatment Action Campaign. Along the way we come to know a number of remarkable people, i.a. Gugu Dlamini, killed for owning up to HIV infection; Simon Nkuli, brave activist; the unnamed gardener who “died of shame”; the author’s feisty mother; and Zackie Achmat, trusted friend and wily strategist.
Cameron integrates the intensely personal with the latest science and a considered examination of the politics and cultural forces at play, particularly in Africa, in a touching human story which ultimately speaks of hope and possibility.
The experience of going through the mental and physical trauma of HIV/AIDS is one not wished upon anyone let alone chronicle every agonizing step of his journey in this very well written account of his fight to save his life. He wrote this book for the benefit of others, whether they were gay or straight. Gardner or sex worker. he wanted to speak for everyone suffering in silence. Judge Cameron suffered from this experience while being one of the most beloved heroes of the South African nation. During this time, he still championed legal victories including apartheid and arm dealings as well as presiding over his day to day case load.
He open-up about having AIDS as a public figure, even though, at the time he had more to lose than to gain by confessing his illness. From his interview with ABC Australia, (Australian Broadcasting Corp.), he explained another reason he spoke up about his suffering, describing him in one word – ‘selfless’.
“I’d been diagnosed some years before I was appointed to higher public office in democratic South Africa by President Mandela in 1994. I hadn’t come out publicly about my fight with HIV/AIDS. I was involved in public policy formulation about AIDS, about the epidemic, which at that stage was rampant, it was the big issue of democratic South Africa… But I was living with the virus myself and it was a big secret. A tiny group of close friends, one or two colleagues knew.”
But what precipitated my public pronouncement, in the end, was the death of a very poor woman, unlike myself, a relatively privileged man, a judge, protected job…and her name was Gugu Dlamini…she was a sex worker. And she spoke out on 1 December 1998, on public radio about the fact that she was living with HIV. And three weeks later her own community, her neighbors and former sex partners turned on her and stabbed and stoned her to death. And truly I thought that if this person with none of the protections and privileges [spoke out] …I had to speak out myself as well.”
In honor of all those suffering from HIV, he helped educate and inform the world on his personal struggles of his battle by publishing a book ‘Witness to AIDS’. In this book, he recognizes his fortune of his wealth, which saved him from death.
Incredibly so, the question of, what made him write this book? Remained. It was a personal struggle and one that people can judge harshly. Much like they would a leper in Biblical times. Again, the selflessness and willingness to help others was his exact reasoning for writing the book, as his ultimate and last reason for coming out publicly and writing this tell all book was like he explained again in a compelling and personal interview with ABC Australia.
“[My reason for this book is, which] I think the story that I tell in my book, Witness to AIDS, is about a man who was my gardener two days a week, a man from Zimbabwe… it became clear to me about two years after I’d made a public statement and about four or five years after I’d started taking treatment myself that he was wasting away, looking very, very sick. And I confronted the issue with him repeatedly. I asked him, “have you been tested for HIV?” I name him in my book as ‘Gladwell’ but his name was Lovemore… But Lovemore said to me, ‘No, I’ve tested, I’m fine,’ and he hadn’t tested, I’m pretty sure… I thought about the extraordinarily high likelihood that Lovemore had HIV, and that he was probably wasting away from AIDS. He returned to Zimbabwe. And the measure of the internalization of the stigma is that Lovemore knew that I would help him get treatment, even though at that stage it wasn’t yet publicly accessible. He knew that I would help him, he knew that he would keep his job, he knew that I and my household and my housekeeper who worked on the same two days for me as he did would all support and love and affirm him, and yet he couldn’t open himself to accept those possibilities. And that I think shows this astonishing power of the internalization of stigma, the fear that is inside one’s mind. And he returned to Zimbabwe in June 2001 and never came back, and he died in Zimbabwe that July.
And the grief that I write about is a grief of self-reproach…I failed Lovemore, I spoke to him, I did what I should have done, I did a little bit more than I should have done… That’s how I failed Lovemore, I should have said, ‘Get into the car, Lovemore, I’m your employer, I think you should get into the car. You don’t have to, I’m not going to sack you if you don’t, but I want you to get into this car and I’m going to take you to my doctor and I’m going to ask my doctor to test you and I’m going to pay for the test and the doctor will give the result to you, but if the result is what I think it is I want to put you on treatment and I’ll pay for it.’ I failed him in not doing any of those things.”
Judge Cameron was one of South Africa’s heroes not only because he helped fight for the little guy, but because he cared about people, he put himself out to the public with the risk of being criticized or killed. And, he did this because he cared. After he was able to save his own life, and after the death of the sex-worker and of the book’s “Lovemore” character and the death of this silent witness and personal Gardner in real life. Judge Cameron stepped-up his HIV/AIDS activism and in post-apartheid South Africa, in which he urged the government to provide a level of treatment for everyone. Judge Cameron was the first and still is the only South African senior official to announce he is living with HIV/AIDS publicly. Also, Judge Cameron is the first senior official of an African Nation to lead the way to gay rights, marriage and the decriminalization of sodomy which was tantamount to murder and only enforced against the gay community.
After he reached his decision to speak-up. He was not afraid to speak-up for what was right and he has been the voice ever since, for people like Eudy Simelane, who was a South African footballer who played for the South Africa women’s national football team and an LGBT-rights activist. She was raped and murdered in her hometown of KwaThema, Springs, Gauteng in 2008 by a vicious practice known as corrective rape. She was brutally gangraped, beaten, and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest, and leg’s. Her lifeless body was found partially clothed in a creek in KwaThema. She had been abducted, gang raped, beaten, and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest, and legs. She had been the first openly gay lesbian to come-out in KwaThema. He not only speaks-out for those like her but also screams for them when their screams were muffled, silenced forever and they could no longer scream.
Thanks to Judge Edwin Cameron South Africa stands albeit alone as a forward-thinking nation and spearheaded and lead for other nations in the continent of Africa to follow. Hopefully other African Nations will soon follow his example and follow him in his quest for rights and freedoms for all. He has championed apartheid, gay rights, gay marriage, and enacted laws and decriminalized sodomy laws to protect the LGBTQ community from prison and lessened the violence due to homophobia and in its stead educated and created a better understanding and awareness of it. He also has the honor to have champion and won brave fight’s in South Africa against apartheid, death-penalty and wrote his own history through gay right’s legislations and his countermeasures to safeguard these new laws. He was known as the fighter of tough causes and the champion of thought to be lost causes.
Cameron has also been involved in other community related activities, which include the following:
• Chair of the governing Council of the University of the Witwatersrand since 1998
• Patron of the Guild Cottage Children’s Home
• Patron of the Sparrow’s Nest Hospice
• Patron of the Community AIDS Response (CARE)
• Patron of Soweto HIV/AIDS Counsellors’ Association (SOHACA)
• Co-founder of Wits Law School Endowment Appeal and first chairman (1998-2005)
• Assistant General Secretary, Rhodes Trust in Southern Africa (1980-1992)
• General Secretary, Rhodes Trust in Southern Africa since 2003
On an international scale, Cameron has been a keynote speaker at the XII International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Durban, and was invited to deliver an inaugural lecture for British Academy, United Kingdom
A list of Cameron’s Honors and Awards include:
Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights
Transnet’s HIV/AIDS Champions Award
University of Stellenbosch – Alumnus Award
Special award by the Bar of England and Wales for ‘contribution to international jurisprudence and protection of human rights’
San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Excellence in Leadership Award
‘Witness to AIDS’ jointly awarded Sunday Times/Alan Paton Prize (South Africa’s premier literary award for non-fiction)
Honorary Fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies in London
Cameron is also an accomplished author. He has written scholarly articles on the judiciary, labour and employment law, as well the law of trusts, AIDS and HIV, the legal rights of gays and lesbians and the legal computation of time.