South Africa’s Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron spoke at Northwestern this Wednesday night at 5 p.m.
Deemed “one of South Africa’s new heroes” by Nelson Mandela, Cameron has been a passionate activist for gay rights and the HIV/AIDS community. About 100 students sat in Harris Hall to hear him discuss constitutional rights, the future of democracy and South Africa’s battle with AIDS.
Cameron discussed at length South Africa’s young and progressive constitution, known for its social and economic rights. It provides the right for speakers of any of the nation’s eleven languages to come to court, and promises rights such as housing, water, food, education and healthcare, which has spurred plenty of debate due to the country’s high rates of prevalence of AIDS and HIV.
“… What we now have ... is the world’s most embracing, the world’s most generous spirited, the world’s most progressive constitution, one that is being lauded as an example by your own Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Cameron said.
Cameron has served as a Court Justice for 7 years. He personally helped ensure the constitution include the words “sexual orientation” against discrimination.
He also brought his own experience as an openly gay man and the first openly HIV positive South African official, creating a more personal conversation in the room.
“Cameron is an amazing speaker and he’s really in touch with a lot of the relevant current issues in South Africa from both a legal and activist standpoint. His personal connection to HIV added a lot of weight and depth to the conversation” said Naib Mian*, a Medill junior who will be traveling to South Africa for his Journalism Residency next quarter.
Caroline Olsen, also a Medill junior preparing for her South Africa JR, said she left the talk inspired to see the issues firsthand.
“What struck me most was that he said change happens on the streets and not in the courtrooms,” Olsen said. “He really believes in social activism and believes that they are the ones to make changes and the courtrooms support those efforts. It’s particularly interesting because often in the U.S. it seems to be the opposite with social activists often facing harsh criticism.”
Cameron will speak on media freedom at 4 p.m. of Thursday at McCormick Foundation Center Forum.
Editor's note 1/21/16: This story was updated to note Naib Mian's role as an associate editor for North by Northwestern Magazine.