Justice Edwin Cameron retires from the Constitutional Court

September 12th, 2019

Retired Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron shares a happy moment with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the special session that was held to mark his retirement at the Constitutional Court on 20 August.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Constitutional Court (CC) held a special session to mark the retirement of Justice Edwin Cameron on 20 August after being a judge in the CC for ten years. In his tribute speech Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said he believed that Justice Cameron deserves to be honoured with the highest award bestowed by the President of the country – the National Orders award – for the role he played in making sure that citizens of South Africa (SA) and Africa receive antiretrovirals. He pointed out that Justice Cameron deserves the award for being a ‘brave and bold man’.

Chief Justice Mogoeng said when the stigma around HIV/Aids started, Justice Cameron stood up and openly said that he was HIV positive. He said Justice Cameron knew the attitude of SA at the time, when no one had come out to say this is a condition like any other and requires medical attention. Chief Justice Mogoeng said Justice Cameron could afford antiretrovirals and, therefore, like many of us he could have chosen to mind his own business and cared less about others, but instead for the sake of those suffering masses, he moved around and mobilised support to see that something meaningful was done for citizens of the country living with HIV/Aids.

Justice Moegeng thanked those who listened to Justice Cameron when he went out to seek support and help rather than mock him, he said the lives of many South Africans, the lives of many Africans and the lives of many people across the globe have been saved because now people can boldly say that they have HIV and can live for many years. Chief Justice Mogoeng told guests that it was Justice Cameron who came up with the idea – and made it fashionable – that judges visit correctional services facilities. This way they could see for themselves what the living conditions of inmates were like and whether there was adequate rehabilitation. He said Justice Cameron never gave up on people, regardless of where they found themselves and why. He pointed out that not only is he a selfless person, but he is also humble and has the capacity to deal with anger management. Chief Justice Mogoeng wished Justice Cameron well.

Among the speakers who paid tribute to Justice Cameron was Sappho Dias Dutton, who spoke on behalf of her husband who is a close friend of Justice Cameron and could not attend the session. Ms Dutton said it was difficult to talk about a man like Justice Cameron in a short speech. She shared some moments of the 40-year friendship her husband had with Justice Cameron and reflected on Justice Cameron’s personal and work life. One of the memories Ms Dutton spoke of, from the letter her husband had written, was of the judgment Mr Dutton described as a ‘fabulous judgment’ referring to the case of Glenister v President of the RSA and Others; Helen Suzman Foundation as Amicus Curie 2011 (7) BCLR 651 (CC). Mr Dutton said the judgment resonated internationally and was an important international instrument directed into domestic law. He said the judgment was ‘great, innovative and brilliant’.

Ms Dutton further read that Justice Cameron had courage, which manifested in the early days of his life. She said that this courage was realised when Justice Cameron tried to set up a scholarship at Oxford University for non-white African applicants who wished to study at the university. She added that this courage was further revealed when Justice Cameron publicly came out as a gay man and while his application to become a judge at the CC was pending, he publicly announced his HIV status. She added that it did not end there. Ms Dutton said Justice Cameron’s courage came out even stronger when he gave a speech in 2000 at an Aids conference, where he challenged pharmaceutical companies about the high pricing of antiretrovirals. Mr Dutton’s letter praised Justice Cameron for his humanity and kindness.

Tribute by SAIFAC

University of Johannesburg Professor and South African Institute for Advanced Constitution, Public, Human Rights and International Law Director, David Bilchitz, said Justice Cameron contributed by helping him and other South Africans like him, as he was a young Jewish boy struggling with same-sex sexuality and growing up during Apartheid. He added that Justice Cameron’s academic intervention and tireless campaigning with a number of iconic activists helped to establish an alternate future, where sexual orientation was officially recognised in the Constitution. He pointed out that Justice Cameron asserted strong values for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Tribute by LSSA and NADEL

The President of the Law Society of South Africa and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Mvuzo Notyesi, said the story on the upbringing of Justice Cameron as outlined in his book, which include, the incarceration of his father and his mother’s lack of means to support him, which resulted in him spending his childhood in an orphanage in Queenstown would be embarrassing to an ordinary person. Mr Notyesi added that it leads to the conclusion that Justice Cameron is unique, strong and an exemplary character worthy for all South Africans to draw strength and courage from. Mr Notyesi added that Justice Cameron’s upbringing confirms that a ‘shepherd can strive to be a king’, if he makes the correct choices and if he has determination.

Tribute by the BLA

President of the Black Lawyers Association, Lutendo Sigogo, said Justice Cameron connected with people through his career. He pointed out that he was an academic and professor at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) where he produced many other jurists. He said that he was a human rights lawyer attached to the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits. Mr Sigogo added that Justice Cameron, in his position, dealt with legal problems affecting people. He added that Justice Cameron played his part in the liberation of SA as he used his legal skills and knowledge to represent members of the liberation movements, in particular, the African National Congress, against the Apartheid regime.

Tribute by the LPC

Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, told Justice Cameron that he deserved all the praise that was given to him. She said that Justice Cameron was a true visionary not only in the legal profession, but also politically. Ms Matolo-Dlepu added that the legal profession must continue to spread the word of gender diversity as Justice Cameron did.

Tribute by the GCB

The General Council of the Bar and Society of Advocates’, advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC, said the legal profession appreciates the personal sacrifices Justice Cameron made. He pointed out that Justice Cameron could have retired earlier but instead chose to serve the country.

Tribute by the NPA

National Prosecuting Authority advocate, Nomvula Mokhatla said Justice Cameron defended the Constitution. She said Justice Cameron is an example of human rights activism. Furthermore, his activism for people living with HIV/Aids and the LGBTI community was inspirational, she said.

Tribute by the Department of Justice

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, said he saw the invitation to speak at Justice Cameron’s special sitting to mark his retirement as a ‘welcome’ by the judiciary. Mr Lamola said that hearing the tributes paid to Justice Cameron from different speakers made him realise that it was more than Justice Cameron’s farewell send-off, but a time for guests to reflect on how far SA has come as a nation. Mr Lamola said Justice Cameron is a role model to both his generation and the generation that came before him, not only as a jurist but also as a citizen of the country. He added that judges do not retire and that he hopes that Justice Cameron will answer governments call whenever they need his services in matters, such as commission of inquiries.

Tribute by the Speaker of the National Assembly

Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, said that Justice Cameron has contributed to the development of SA’s democracy and has protected the Constitution. She said Parliament wished Justice Cameron well and hoped that he could do all the things that he had put aside while he was serving the country.

Word by Justice Cameron

Justice Cameron thanked all the speakers and guests who attended the special sitting at the CC to mark his retirement. He said that he was overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude. He thanked his family, friends and colleagues for the support that they had given him throughout his career. He pointed out that his sister helped make him the person that he is today by taking care of him and putting him through school.

Justice Cameron said the peril confronting the country remain too large. He pointed out that tough times still lie ahead for those in the country who are committed to democracy and to governance under law. He said, over the past ten years, the workload of the CC had increased, and that the CC has confronted deeply divisive issues on race, including affirmative action, language rights and culture. He said some cases were emotional. Justice Cameron pointed out that even through the difficulties, he together with the other judges have worked together as colleagues to try and find ways to fulfil their commitment to the Constitution, while being truthful to the judicial oaths they took and showing respect to one another.

Justice Cameron handed over his last judgment to mark his retirement in the case of Mwelase and Others v Director-General for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and Another (CC) (unreported case no CCT 232/18, 20-8-2019) (Cameron J (Froneman J, Khampepe J, Madlanga J, Mhlantla J, Nicholls AJ and Theron J concurring)).

Justice Cameron was appointed to the CC by former President Kgalema Motlanthe in 2009. He has been a judge for 25 years, and served at the High Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the CC.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.