OPINION: Cameron put openness ahead of his position so we could all learn from it

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Justice Edwin Cameron.
Leanne Stander

The story of your life that you shared with us is a true example of epitome of openness. You revealed to us as a nation your personal circumstances at a time when it was not easy to do so, writes Lutendo Sigogo.

I am honoured, on behalf of the Black Lawyers' Association, to be amongst the people who are paying homage to Honourable Justice Edwin Cameron in a ceremonial session marking his retirement from active duties as a Justice of this Honourable Court and in recognition of the selfless service that he rendered to our beautiful country, South Africa. 

Chief Justice, we are here today because Justice Cameron played a very important role in developing and shaping our jurisprudence as an academic, legal practitioner, judge of both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal as well a justice of this court. He did all these despite the fact that he comes from a very humble family, a family which qualifies to be classified as poor. Against all odds he managed to rise within the ranks of the legal profession until he presided in the highest court in our country.

In this and other courts that he presided over he earned himself deep respect from his peers as well as legal practitioners and this is why others called him "a jurist in a class of his own".

Justice Cameron throughout his legal career was connected to the people. He was an academic and professor at Wits University where he produced many other jurists. He was a human rights lawyer attached to the Centre for Applied Studies at Wits. In this position he dealt with real legal problems affecting real people. He played his share towards liberation of our country as he used his legal skills and knowledge to represent members of the liberation movements, the ANC in particular, against the apartheid machinery.

In your quest for justice you embrace the values of openness and transparency. We see this in many of your judgments and personal life. The case of Electronic Media Network Limited and Others v. e.tv (Pty) Limited and others serves as one of the many examples of these values that you lived by. In paragraph 98 of this judgment you held the following:

"Hence, if accountability, responsiveness and openness are fundamental to our Constitution, then a consultation process that lacks those attributes needs to be explained. Where there is no explanation there is no reason, and where there is no reason there is arbitrariness and irrationality. Neither rocket science nor judicial conspiracy are needed to understand the simplicity, logic and, yes, moral suasion of it..."

The story of your life that you shared with us is a true example of epitome of openness. You revealed to us as a nation your personal circumstances at the time when it was not easy and fashionable to do so. You put openness ahead of your position in life because you believed that it is only through openness that our society will be saved of many ills that it is going through.

You did not hide your passion to fight for the marginalised, you unashamedly stood strong and firm for the rights of LGBT community in our society. As a human rights lawyer you represented freedom fighters when it could bring harm to you and those next to you. You openly championed the fight against HIV and AIDS. Hence, we fully agree with you when you said "The stigma is still enormous. It would be helpful if we had more [prominent people open about being HIV positive…"

We are witnesses of what you stand for and you have been a champion of opening up.

Only if we have more prominent people like you South Africa, Africa and the world would have been a better place.

At the time you are stepping down from the bench you are leaving us empty handed you are leaving us with a collective jurisprudential wisdom amassed over a period of 25 years and preserved in our law reports and other sources of our legal authorities. As a profession we cannot thank you enough for the wealth of knowledge that you dedicated your life to accumulate only to impart to us.

We wish you a well-deserved rest in your retirement from active position of a Justice of the Constitutional Court. 

I thank you.

- Lutendo Sigogo is president of the Black Lawyers' Association. This is the address he gave during the special sitting of the Constitutional Court on the retirement of Justice Edwin Cameron, August 20, 2019.

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