Edwin Cameron was born in Pretoria on 15 February 1953.
He completed his schooling at Pretoria Boys’ High School and attended Stellenbosch University on the Anglo-American Open Scholarship, where he obtained a BA Law and an Honours degree in Latin, both cum laude. He lectured in Latin and Classical Studies before studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. There he obtained a BA in Jurisprudence and the BCL, with honours and prizes. Cameron received his LLB from the University of South Africa, and received the medal for the best law graduate.
Cameron practised at the Johannesburg Bar from 1983 to 1994. From 1986 he was a human rights lawyer based at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), where he was awarded a personal professorship in law. His practice included labour and employment law; defence of ANC fighters charged with treason; conscientious and religious objection; land tenure and forced removals; and gay and lesbian equality. From 1988 he advised the National Union of Mineworkers on AIDS/HIV, and helped draft and negotiate the industry’s first comprehensive AIDS agreement with the Chamber of Mines. While at CALS, 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. He oversaw the gay and lesbian movement’s submissions to the Kempton Park negotiating process. This, with other work, helped secure the express inclusion of sexual orientation in the South African Constitution.
In September 1994, he was awarded silk (senior counsel status). President Mandela appointed him an acting judge and later a judge of the High Court. In 1999/2000 he served for a year as an Acting Justice at the Constitutional Court. In 2000 he was appointed a Judge of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal.
- Chair of the governing Council of the University of the Witwatersrand from 1998 to 2008
- Patron of Guild Cottage Children’s Home, Sparrow’s Nest Children’s Home, Big Shoes Foundation, Community AIDS Response (CARe), Soweto HIV/AIDS Counsellors’ Association (SOHACA), Ladybrand Hospice, Vuyani Dance Theatre
- Co-founder and first chair of Wits Law School Endowment Appeal (1998-2005)
- General Secretary, Rhodes Trust in Southern Africa from 2003 to 2014
Honours and awards
- Keynote address at the XII International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Durban, 2000
- Edward A Smith Annual Lecture, Harvard University Law School, 2002
- President of Bentham Club and Bentham Lecture, University College, London, 2003
- Inaugural lecture in law, British Academy, 2004
- Lord Chief Justice Taylor Memorial Lecture, Inner Temple, 2008
- Visiting Judge, Birkbeck College, London
- Honorary Professor, City University, London
- Fourth Leslie Scarman Memorial Lecture, January 2012
- Keynote address at Columbia University Bio-Ethics Centre, October 2012
- Keynote address, Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health & Human Rights and Center for AIDS Research, April 2014
- Robert P Anderson Memorial Lecture, Yale Law School, October 2014
- Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights, 2000
- Transnet’s HIV/AIDS Champions Award, 2000
- University of Stellenbosch - Alumnus Award, 2000
- Special award by the Bar of England and Wales for ‘contribution to international jurisprudence and protection of human rights’, 2002
- San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Excellence in Leadership Award, 2003
- Honorary Fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies, 2001
- Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 2003
- Honorary Fellow, Keble College, Oxford, 2004
- Witness to AIDS’ awarded Sunday Times/Alan Paton Prize (South Africa’s premier literary award for non-fiction), 2006
- Prize for Civil Courage of German gay and lesbian movement, 2007
- Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple, 2009
- Winner of Brudner Prize, Yale University, for gay and lesbian scholarship, 2009
- Grand Prix du Conseil Québécois des Gais et Lesbiennes, Montreal, 2011
- Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary International
- Honorary doctorates in law from King’s College, London (2009), the University of the Witwatersrand (2009), Oxford University (2011) and St Andrews University (2012)
- Justice – A Personal Account (2014) winner of South African Literary Award (SALA) for creative non-fiction, 2015
Cameron has written scholarly articles on the judiciary, conscription, labour and employment law, the law of trusts, AIDS and HIV, the legal rights of gays and lesbians and the legal computation of time. Apart from his memoir, Witness to AIDS (2005), he has also written books on the law of trusts, labour law and gay and lesbian lives in South Africa.
JSC interview on the 3 October 1994
Speeches and Lectures
Wits Centre for Ethics, August 2009
Seminar in Honour of Professor Tony Honore, March 2010
The Fourth Scarman Lecture, January 2012
Understanding Human Dignity:Dignity and Disgrace – Moral Citizenship and Constitutional Protection, June 2012
World Bar Conference, London : Advocacy in the highest court: do’s and dont’s in London, Canberra and Johannesburg, June 2012
SASOP ~ internalised stigma ~ 17th NATIONAL CONGRESS OF SOUTH AFRICAN SOCIETY OF PSYCHIATRISTS 7 September 2012
Columbia Bio-Ethics Keynote 18 October 2012
Tribute to Arthur Chaskalson – Sunday Independent 09 December 2012
Tribute to Arthur Chaskalson – Extraordinary Lives – podcast with Judge Lee Bozalek
State House Malawi speech against homophobia and AIDS stigma, Friday 28 June 2013 (transcript) (taken from Ground up)
State House Malawi speech against homophobia and AIDS stigma, Friday 28 June 2013 (YouTube)
Sunday Times Literary Award Address 29 June 2013.
Public Interest Lawyers Group conference speech 24 July 2014
SAOU ~ Discipline and Violence in Schools - Claiming Back the School 26 July 2014.
Bar Dinner Johannesburg Saturday : Acceptance of Honorary Life Membership 1 November 2014
Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture, Oxford, Tuesday 16 June 2015