|Alan Paton Award (2006)
“I love being a judge. The intellectual challenges are exhilarating … But I am not only a judge. I am also living with Aids. I am still the only public office bearer in South Africa to have chosen to make public my HIV status. I felt I was called to witness. I felt called to account for my survival in a country in which hundreds of thousands were dying. I did not feel I should remain silent.”
Part memoir, part thought-provoking analysis, Witness to AIDS is Judge Edwin Cameron’s revealing account of living with Aids. He vividly explores what HIV/Aids means – for him as he faces the possibility of lingering death, for all of us in facing one of the biggest challenges of our time. Edwin Cameron’s life story is one of despair turning to hope. He escaped a tough childhood, partly spent in a children’s home, to become a prominent human rights lawyer, only to be tested for HIV without his knowledge and abruptly informed of his positive HIV-status. He did not share this with anyone for many years, suffering unbearable shame, which he argues is the source of the terrible stigma that still clings to AIDS.
In Witness to AIDS, he explains his decision to go public and to accept anti-retroviral treatment, in a country beset by “denialism”. He takes a critical look at what is so different about African Aids; at the divergent reactions of Mandela and Mbeki to the crisis; the role of international pharmaceutical companies; the intricacies of “race, sex, death and Africa”; and the impact of South Africa’s largest activist group, the Treatment Action Campaign. Along the way we come to know a number of remarkable people, i.a. Gugu Dlamini, killed for owning up to HIV infection; Simon Nkuli, brave activist; the unnamed gardener who “died of shame”; the author’s feisty mother; and Zackie Achmat, trusted friend and wily strategist.
Cameron integrates the intensely personal with the latest science and a considered examination of the politics and cultural forces at play, particularly in Africa, in a touching human story which ultimately speaks of hope and possibility.