'Thanks to him‚ the lives of many have been saved': Chief Justice Mogoeng on Edwin Cameron

Justice Edwin Cameron
Edwin Cameron Justice Edwin Cameron
Image: Thys Dullaart

Justice Edwin Cameron deserves praise as one of the "greatest" legal minds of his time‚ and recognition for his lifelong advocacy for human rights‚ as well as his fight for universal access to anti-retrovirals for HIV positive citizens.

This was the message that a majority of speakers gave as they bid farewell to Cameron‚ who on Tuesday retired as a justice of the Constitutional Court.

Among those who attended the ceremonial sitting held at the Constitutional Court‚ were retired deputy chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke‚ Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. Cameron's family was also present.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng gave an impassioned speech during which he described Cameron as a "selfless" man.

"When HIV attracted stigma‚ he stood up and declared openly 'I'm HIV positive'. He knew the attitudes of South Africans at the time because nobody had stepped out...‚" Mogoeng said.

He said although Cameron could afford anti-retrovirals‚ he fought on behalf of the poor and those who could not afford to pay for the drugs.

"He could have chosen to mind his business... He is never the kind that says 'as long as I have my needs met‚ I'm not going to rock the boat'... His love for the multitudes of South Africans would not allow him to shut up.

"For the sake of those suffering masses‚ he not only spoke‚ but he acted. He moved around and mobilised support... Thanks to him‚ the lives of many South Africans‚ the lives of many Africans‚ the lives of many people across the globe‚ have been saved."

He said Cameron had given a lot of people courage to boldy declare that they are HIV positive and encouraged others to be checked and lead normal lives. Mogoeng said Cameron deserved to be honoured at national level.

"I think Edwin deserves to be recognised by this country for his catalystic role in making anti-retrovirals available for the multitudes and liberating many‚ from the oppression that they thought they were under‚ as a consequence of just being in an unfortunate condition of suffering."

Mogoeng described Cameron as a selfless and humble person and an epitome of non-racialism. "Check the company that he keeps..."

The Chief Justice shared a light moment of when he had just started working at the Constitutional Court and Cameron would invite him to his office and share his lunch with him.

"He is the only judge who invited me to his chambers during lunch time and fed me with something I had never known.

"I was (too shy) to ask the first day‚ subsequently I said 'what is that special meal that you shared with me?'. He said it was a spinach and feta quiche. Bear with me‚ I'm a village boy‚ I had never been exposed to that delicacy before...."

"Thank you for introducing me to quiche‚" Mogoeng said to Cameron.

Cameron on Tuesday read his last judgment in the matter of the department of land reform and labour tenants who wanted a special master appointed to process their claims‚ including some who had unsuccessfully tried for more than 22 years to lay claim to a portion of one of SA’s most expensive and prestigious schools‚ Hilton College.

The majority of the Constitutional Court judges ruled in favour of the labour tenants. The judgment penned by Cameron found that there was a need to appoint a special master to oversee claims by families who laboured on farms in lieu of payments and permission to live on a portion of the farms.

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