Edwin Cameron

Edwin Cameron (born 15 February 1953 in Pretoria) was a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa.[1] He is well known for his HIV/AIDS and gay-rights activism and was hailed by Nelson Mandela as "one of South Africa's new heroes".[2]

Edwin Cameron
Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa
In office
1 January 2009  20 August 2019
Appointed byPresident Kgalema Motlanthe
Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal
In office
July 2000  31 December 2008
Appointed byPresident Thabo Mbeki
Acting Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa
In office
August 1999  May 2000
Judge of the Witwatersrand Local Division
In office
1 January 1995  July 2000
Appointed byPresident Nelson Mandela
Personal details
Born (1953-02-15) 15 February 1953
Pretoria, South Africa
Alma materStellenbosch University
Keble College, Oxford
University of South Africa

Early life

Cameron was born in Pretoria. His father was imprisoned for car theft and his mother did not have the means to support him. He therefore spent much of his childhood in an orphanage in Queenstown.[3] His elder sister was killed when Cameron was nine.

Cameron won a scholarship to attend Pretoria Boys High School, one of South Africa's best state schools, and reinvented himself, he says, "in the guise of a clever schoolboy".[4] Thereafter he went to Stellenbosch University, studying Latin and classics. Here he stayed at Wilgenhof Mens Residence. After this he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.[5] There he switched to law and earned a BA in Jurisprudence and the Bachelor of Civil Law, winning the Vinerian Scholarship.[6] When he returned to South Africa he completed an LLB at the University of South Africa and was its best law graduate.

Cameron's early career combined academia and legal practice.[7] In 1982, while working as a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, he famously wrote a scathing critique of the late Chief Justice L. C. Steyn, then a darling of the apartheid establishment.[8] And, in 1987, Cameron argued that three senior South African judges, including its former Chief Justice, Pierre Rabie, ought to resign to preserve the legitimacy of the judiciary.[9] Cameron practised at the Johannesburg Bar from 1983 to 1994. From 1986 he was a human rights lawyer at Wits's Centre for Applied Legal Studies, where in 1989 he was awarded a personal professorship in law.[1] Cameron's practice included labour and employment law; defence of African National Congress fighters charged with treason; conscientious and religious objection; land tenure and forced removals; and gay and lesbian equality.[1] In 1992 he became a co-author (with Tony Honoré, one of his mentors at Oxford) of Honoré's South African Law of Trusts.[10] Cameron took silk in 1994.[1]

Judicial career

High Court

In October 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed Cameron as an acting judge of the High Court to chair a commission of inquiry into illegal arms sales by Armscor, operating as the sales arm of the SANDF, to Yemen.[11] Cameron's report was described as a "hard-hitting" critique of Armscor's conduct, but was quickly eclipsed by myriad other allegations about the South African government's illegal arms trades.[12]

Cameron was appointed permanently to the Witwatersrand Local Division in 1995. His best-known judgment in this capacity is Holomisa v Argus Newspapers Ltd,[13] where Bantu Holomisa had brought a defamation suit against The Star for alleging that he had been "directly involved" in the infiltration into South Africa of an Azanian People's Liberation Army "hit squad" aimed at "killing whites". Cameron's judgment was described as a "most rigorous exposition" of the Constitution's application to private disputes and a "landmark" defence of free speech.[14] Others, while acknowledging the judgment had departed importantly from apartheid-era law, said it should have gone further in protecting journalists.[15] Cameron's position was substantially confirmed, in subsequent cases, by the Supreme Court of Appeal.[16]

Supreme Court of Appeal

In 1999, Cameron was given an acting stint on the Constitutional Court, during which he partook in its seminal judgments in Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Grootboom and wrote the Liquor Bill judgment on provincial legislative powers[17] — the first, and still the only, case to be referred to the Court by the President of South Africa under section 79 of the Constitution.[18] The Judicial Service Commission had recommended that Cameron be permanently appointed, but Sandile Ngcobo was ultimately preferred due to the late intercession of Thabo Mbeki, then Deputy President, who felt the appointee should be black.[19][20] Cameron has said there is "no doubt" this was the correct decision.[21]

Cameron was instead appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal (at the same time as Mahomed Navsa and Robert Nugent),[21] which he served for eight years. There he wrote leading judgments on legal causation,[22] hearsay evidence,[23] public contracts[24] and contempt of court.[25] In Minister of Finance v Gore, Cameron co-authored a judgment with Fritz Brand that held the state could be delictually liable for causing pure economic loss by fraud.[26]

Constitutional Court

On 31 December 2008 President Kgalema Motlanthe appointed Cameron to the Constitutional Court, taking effect from 1 January 2009. He is considered a crucial member of the Court's progressive wing.[27] He has been described as a "jurist of the highest order",[27] "the greatest legal mind of his generation"[19] and "in a league of his own".[28]

Cameron's judgment in Glenister v President, co-authored with Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, struck down amendments to the National Prosecuting Act and South African Police Service Act on the basis that they failed to create an "adequately independent" anti-corruption unit.[29] This was praised as an "imaginative"[30] and "brilliant"[31] judgment by commentators and means South Africa must have an independent corruption-fighting agency notwithstanding the ruling ANC's controversial disbanding of the Scorpions.

Also well-known are Cameron's judgments on defamation law and free speech:

  • In The Citizen v McBride, Cameron's majority judgment enlarged the scope of the fair comment defence and substantially excused The Citizen from liability to Robert McBride for calling him a "murderer" unsuited for public office.[32]
  • Le Roux v Dey, handed down in 2012, concerned three schoolboys who had superimposed an image of their deputy principal's face on the naked body of one man masturbating alongside another. The Constitutional Court's majority judgment held the image was defamatory of the deputy principal.[33] Cameron, however, in a judgment co-authored with Justice Froneman, dissented on this point, saying it could not be actionable to imply someone is gay. Leading commentators praised this conclusion.[34] Others, however, criticised Cameron's "schizophrenic" judgment for holding that the picture had nevertheless actionably harmed the plaintiff's dignity by suggesting he engaged in "sexually promiscuous or exhibitionist" conduct.[35]
  • In Democratic Alliance v African National Congress, handed down in 2015, Cameron's majority judgment, co-authored with Justices Froneman and Khampepe, dismissed the ruling ANC's claim against the opposition Democratic Alliance for stating in a bulk SMS that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report shows how President Zuma "stole" taxpayers' money to build his Nkandla home.[36] The judgment was "hailed as a victory for freedom of expression during election campaigns",[37] though some thought it risked conceptual muddiness.[38]

Cameron retired on 20 August 2019, the 25th anniversary of his appointment to the bench.[39][40]


Gay rights

Cameron has been openly gay since the early 1980s.[21] He addressed the crowd in the first pride parade in South Africa held in Johannesburg on 13 October 1990.[41][42] Thereafter he oversaw the gay and lesbian movement's submissions to the drafters of the South African Constitution and was instrumental in securing the inclusion of an express prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[1] He is one of 29 signatories to the Yogyakarta Principles.[43] He also was a founding member of the Society for Homosexuals on Campus, a student organization at the University of the Witwatersrand, which later became known as Activate Wits.[44]

1995 saw the publication of Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa, "a celebration of the lives of gay men and lesbians in South Africa" which Cameron co-edited with Mark Gevisser.[45]


From 1988 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.[1]

Cameron had himself contracted HIV in the 1980s and became extremely ill with AIDS when working as a High Court judge.[46] His salary allowed him to afford anti-retroviral treatment, which saved his life. Cameron's realisation that he owed his life to his relative wealth caused him to become a prominent HIV/AIDS activist in post-apartheid South Africa, urging its government to provide treatment to all.[21] He has strongly criticised President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS-denialist policies.[47] Cameron was the first, and remains the only, senior South African official to state publicly that he is living with HIV/AIDS.[48][49]

His prize-winning first book, Witness to AIDS, is about his struggle with the illness. It has been published in South Africa, the UK, the US and in translation in Germany and in China.[46]


Cameron's awards include the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (2000); Stellenbosch University's Alumnus Award; Transnet's HIV/AIDS Champions Award; and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation Excellence in Leadership Award. In 2008 he served as a member of the Jury of the Red Ribbon Award, a partnership of the UNAIDS Family. He is the 2009–2010 winner of the Brudner Prize from Yale University,[1] awarded annually to an accomplished scholar or activist whose work has made significant contributions to the understanding of LGBT issues or furthered the tolerance of LGBT people.

In 2002 the Bar of England and Wales honoured him with a Special Award for his contribution to international jurisprudence and human rights. He is an honorary fellow of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, and Keble College, Oxford; and was a visiting fellow of All Souls College, Oxford in 2003–04, researching "Aspects of the AIDS Epidemic, examining in particular the denialist stance supported by SA President Mbeki". In 2009 Cameron was appointed as an Honorary Master of the Bench of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. He has five honorary doctorates.[1][50]

Cameron was, until 2015, the general secretary of the Rhodes Scholarships in Southern Africa and is a patron of the Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal.[51] Between 1998 and 2008, Cameron chaired the Council of the University of the Witwatersrand. He is the patron of the Guild Cottage Children's Home, the Soweto HIV/AIDS Counselors' Association and Community AIDS Response.[1]

From January 2020 he will be the Chancellor of Stellenbosch University.[52]


Cameron's critical role in the battle for access to antiretroviral treatment in Africa and other parts of the global south is portrayed in the award-winning documentary Fire in the Blood.[53]



  1. "Justice Edwin Cameron profile", Constitutional Court of South Africa.
  2. Mafika (12 January 2009). "Cameron in Constitutional Court". Brand South Africa. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  3. Cameron, Edwin (2014). Justice: A Personal Account. Tafelberg.
  4. Steyn, Richard (5 March 2014). "Justice Edwin Cameron, an activist". Financial Mail.
  5. "University of Oxford honours Justice Edwin Cameron". The Rhodes Trust. 3 March 2011. Archived from the original on 7 March 2014.
  6. www.lesideesnet.com, Les Idées Net -. "African Success : Biography of Edwin CAMERON". www.africansuccess.org. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  7. "JSC interview: Edwin Cameron", Constitutional Court website.
  8. Cameron, Edwin (1982). "Legal Chauvinism, Executive-Mindedness and Justice—L C Steyn's Impact on South African Law". South African Law Journal.
  9. Rickard, Carmel. "Legal academic calls on judges to resign". Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  10. Honoré, Tony; Cameron, Edwin (1992). Honoré's South African Law of Trusts. Juta & Co Ltd. ISBN 9780702126413.
  11. "Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Arms Transactions Between Armscor and One Eli Wazan and Other Related Matters" (1995), Polity Archived 27 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Brummer, Stefaans (2 June 1995). "SA's arms dealing underworld". Mail & Guardian.
  13. Holomisa v Argus Newspapers Ltd 1996 (2) SA 588 (W).
  14. "In the year of the Constitution, SA begins moulding a Rechtstaat". Mail & Guardian. 24 December 1996.
  15. Serjeant at the Bar. "Publish and be damned". Mail & Guardian.
  16. National Media Ltd and Others v Bogoshi (1998) ZASCA 94; 1998 (4) SA 1196 (SCA).
  17. Ex Parte President of the Republic of South Africa: In re Constitutionality of the Liquor Bill (1999) ZACC 15.
  18. Bishop, Michael; Raboshakga, Ngwako. "Chapter 17: National legislative authority". In Bishop, Michael; Woolman, Stu (eds.). Constitutional Law of South Africa. Juta & Co Ltd. p. 31.
  19. McGreal, Chris (2 June 1999). "Mbeki under fire for veto of judge". The Guardian.
  20. "Zuma looks to Ngcobo as new chief justice". Mail & Guardian. 6 August 2009.
  21. "Constitutional Court Oral History Project: Edwin Cameron" (PDF). 16 January 2012.
  22. S v Tembani (2006) ZASCA 123.
  23. S v Ndhlovu and Others (2002) ZASCA 70.
  24. Logbro Properties v Bedderson NO and Others (2002) ZASCA 135.
  25. Fakie NO v CCII Systems (Pty) Ltd (2006) ZASCA 52.
  26. Minister of Finance and Others v Gore NO (2006) ZASCA 98.
  27. Calland, Richard (2013). "The Zuma Years (extract)". TheConMag.
  28. Myburgh, James (29 August 2008). "The great Constitutional Court mystery". Politicsweb.
  29. Glenister v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others (2011) ZACC 6
  30. Boonzaier, Leo (25 March 2015). "A constitutional obligation to disclose political party funding?". African Legal Centre. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  31. De Vos, Pierre (18 March 2011). "Glenister: A monumental judgment in defence of the poor". Retrieved 18 May 2015.
  32. The Citizen 1978 (Pty) Ltd and Others v McBride (2011) ZACC 11.
  33. Le Roux and Others v Dey (2011) ZACC 4.
  34. Milo, Dario; Palmer, Greg (17 March 2011). "Analysis: Schoolboy scandals and defamation in SA. Quo vadis?". DailyMaverick.
  35. MacKaiser, Eusebius (17 April 2011). "ConCourt loves gays but hates sex". Politicweb.
  36. Democratic Alliance v African National Congress (2015) ZACC 1.
  37. de Vos, Pierre (21 January 2015). "The DA's SMSes: Judgment day and its likely impact". DailyMaverick.
  38. Milo, Dario; Winks, Ben (23 January 2015). "SMS ruling muddies the waters". Mail & Guardian.
  39. "Justice Edwin Cameron to step down in August after 25 years as a judge". News24. 27 June 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  40. Cosser, Narnia Bohler-Muller, Gary Pienaar and Michael. "OP-ED: Edwin Cameron: From an orphanage in Queenstown to Constitution Hill". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  41. de Waal, Shaun; Manion, Anthony, eds. (2006). Pride: Protest and Celebration. Jacana Media. pp. 4–7, 20–22, 33, 37. ISBN 9781770092617. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  42. Blignaut, Charl (13 October 2012). "Some of us are freer than others". City Press. Archived from the original on 7 August 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  43. Signatories to the Yogyakrta Principles, p. 35
  44. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  45. Cameron, Edwin; Gevisser, Mark (1995). Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa. Routledge. ISBN 9781136656026.
  46. Cameron, Edwin (2005). Witness to Aids. Tafelberg.
  47. Horton, R (2000). "Mbeki defiant about South African HIV/AIDS strategy". The Lancet. 356 (9225): 225. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(00)02489-2. PMID 10963206.
  48. "Bearing Witness, A&U Mag" http://www.aumag.org/features/CameronDec05.html Archived 12 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  49. "Key People: Edwin Cameron",JournAIDS.
  50. "News – More than 5 000 Maties to be rewarded for..." www.sun.ac.za. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  51. "Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal – Board of Patrons". Archived from the original on 6 February 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2009.
  52. "Justice Cameron elected Stellenbosch University's new chancellor". News24. 25 September 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  53. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 October 2018. Retrieved 28 December 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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