Last night I had the huge privilege of meeting Edwin Cameron, a Justice in the South African Constitutional Court. He is one of the top ten South Africans of my life time. (I was born and brought up in Apartheid South Africa before moving to England in 1979). He was an incredibly brave campaigner against apartheid, and has continued in post-apartheid South Africa to be an advocate of human rights and dignity, the acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS, and for LGBT rights and respect. He was the first prominent public figure in South Africa to publicly state that he was living with HIV at a time when to do so had cost many lives from violence.
It isn’t always a wise move to meet someone for whom you have such high regard – the experience can be very disappointing. But with Justice Cameron the absolute opposite is true. In person, he is a charming, engaging, wonderful man.
It sometimes takes a man or woman of extraordinary courage and vision, such as Edwin Cameron, to shine a light into corners of prejudice and oppression. In today’s news Catherine Zeta Jones has announced that she is receiving treatment for depression. The Sussex cricketer, Mike Yardy, too, has made it public that he is suffering from severe depression, returning home from the cricket World Cup. Before them, many celebrities have spoken about mental health problems. Such disclosures help to ‘normalise’ a condition that effects so many millions of people in the UK every year.
One of last taboos in the UK is sexuality in football. In cricket, tennis, rugby union and many other sports, men and women have had the courage to speak openly about their sexuality, and have been supported by their teams and the sport. Except in football. It will take an extraordinarily brave footballer, with the courage of an Edwin Cameron, to break this bastion of prejudice and bigotry. I’m not holding my breath.