Openly Gay Judge On Top South African Court Talks of Sexuality, State of the Nation
JOHANNESBURG - An openly gay judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court recently hosted a launch for his new book in the foyer of the court, a symbol-laden structure partly built with exposed brick from the apartheid-era prison that once stood on the same hilltop. At the event, another judge praised Edwin Cameron, loftily describing their workplace as a shrine to democracy but also ribbing the colleague he sees often.
"He has assured me and reassured me that he has no crush on me," joked Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy chief justice and a former activist who was jailed for years during white racist rule. The audience laughed, and laughed more when Cameron stepped to the microphone and said: "I’m actually blushing."
The banter captured the ideal of openness in the South African court, anchor of a constitution widely seen as one of the most progressive in the world because of its commitment to equality, operating in an inevitably imperfect society that struggles to fulfill expectations 20 years after the end of white domination. Cameron’s own story as a man who publicly stated he has the virus that causes AIDS and later joined the nation’s highest court exemplifies the possibility of South Africa, in contrast with growing intolerance toward gays in Uganda, Nigeria and some other African countries.
Many of the 11 judges on the Constitutional Court were activists in the fight against apartheid that culminated in the first all-race elections in 1994, Cameron said in an interview in his office with The Associated Press. He worked as a human rights lawyer during the tumultuous last chapter of white rule and has campaigned for gay rights.
"You sit on a court with judicial capacities and judicial constraints, but you also have known injustice yourself and grown up and worked professionally in the acute awareness of it. So that’s what makes it different," Cameron said. He described South Africans as skeptical, outspoken and politicized, saying those qualities are the beneficial fallout of challenging apartheid for decades.
"We are not quiescent," said 61-year-old Cameron, who joined the Constitutional Court in 2009. "Unlike Zimbabwe, unlike Swaziland, it’s our angry population that is our safeguard against authoritarianism and dictatorship. I think that’s a tremendous plus."
South Africa often deliberates to what extent past racial injustice hurts its ability to overcome crime, corruption, poverty and other challenges even as it boasts a stable electoral system and one of Africa’s biggest economies. The debate is intensifying ahead of ceremonies later this month for the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid and elections in May.