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Openly Gay Justice Appointed To South Africa’s Highest Court

Jim Burroway

January 5th, 2009

Justice Edwin Cameron, a justice on South Africa’s Supreme Court, has been appointed to the Constitutional Court, the nations highest court, by South African President Kgalema Mothlanthe. Cameron is the first openly gay official to serve in such a high capacity in Africa. His appointment is doubly groundbreaking in that he is also HIV-positive.

Justice Cameron authored several books, including Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, and Witness To AIDS, a memoir about his experience of living with AIDS. Cameron was praised by Nelson Mandela as “one of South Africa’s new heroes” for disclosing that he was HIV-positive:

In an interview with the BBC, he explained that he was inspired to speak out by the death of Gugu Dlamini, who was stoned and stabbed to death three weeks after she had admitted on isi- Zulu-language radio that she was HIV-positive.

“I thought that if this woman, without any protection, living in a township, not behind a palisade like I do in my middle-class suburb in Joburg, not with the income of a judge, not with the constitutional protection … I thought that I should speak out,” he said.

Cameron became a harsh critic of former President Thabo Mbeki’s denialism surrounding AIDS. Mbeki disputed the well-established link between HIV and AIDS, contending that anti-retroviral drugs were  “poison” with no medical benefit. Cameron condemned Mbeki’s policies, saying they were tantamount to signing a death sentence for millions of South Africans. Mbeki retaliated by blocking Cameron’s rise to the Constitutional Court.

Justice Cameron also spoke out at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City for decriminalizing homosexuality worldwide as an important step in combating AIDS.

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While I would have some disagreements with Cameron I think he’s a good appointment. We had met on a few occassions when I was living in South Africa and in our discussions I found him to be thoughtful and open.

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