He lectured in Latin and Classical Studies at SU before studying on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University, where he obtained the degrees BA in Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Civil Law. Cameron graduated with an LLB degree from the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 1978. He practised at the Johannesburg Bar from 1983 to 1994. From 1986, he was also a human rights lawyer based at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), where he was awarded a law professorship. His practice included labour and employment law, defence of members of the African National Congress charged with treason, conscientious and religious objectors, land tenure and forced removals, as well as gay and lesbian equality.
From 1988, he helped draft and negotiate the mining industry’s first comprehensive Aids agreement with the Chamber of Mines, and, at the same time, assisted in drafting the Charter of Rights on Aids and HIV. He co-founded the Aids Consortium, a national affiliation of non-governmental organisations working in the field of Aids, which he chaired for the first three years. Cameron was also the founder and first director of the Aids Law Project. When the Constitution was being drafted in 1994, he oversaw the gay and lesbian movement’s submissions to the Kempton Park multiparty negotiating forum. This resulted in the inclusion of a clause on respect for all persons’ sexual orientation in the final Constitution – a world first.
In September 1994, the late president Nelson Mandela conferred on Cameron the status of senior consultus (senior counsel or ‘silk’), and he was appointed as an acting judge of the high court. He was asked by the late chief justice Arthur Chaskalson to act in the Constitutional Court from 1999 to 2000, was appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2001, and to the Constitutional Court in 2009. Described as a “jurist of the highest order”, he was considered a crucial member of the Constitutional Court’s progressive wing.
As the first South African in a high-profile public office speaking openly about his HIV status and experience taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), Cameron has made a credible and crucial contribution to more accessible ARV treatment for all South Africans living with HIV.
His international impact as top jurist with nearly 200 published judgments against his name, acclaimed author and popular speaker is evident from the numerous awards and distinctions he has received, among them the Nelson Mandela award. Other accolades include recognition by the Bar of England and Wales for his contribution to international jurisprudence and the protection of human rights, and the prestigious Grand Prix du Conseil Québécois des Gais et Lesbiennes award bestowed on him in Montreal.
His approach to handling difficult situations is premised on two principles that he holds dear: integrity and preparation. He has helped develop South African law so as to truly reflect the fundamental values of the Constitution, and is a key player in South African and international law.
He is the youngest of three children, with two older sisters, Laura and Jeanie. The eldest, Laura, was tragically killed by a delivery van in Pretoria as a child. Cameron credits Jeanie for helping make him the person he is today. He met his partner, Nhlanhla Mnisi, in 2015.