An openly gay man living with HIV has been appointed to the Constitutional Court of South Africa by the country’s President.

Edwin Cameron, 55, was described by Nelson Mandela as a “hero” when he became the first prominent public official in the country to reveal his HIV positive status.

He was unanimously backed for promotion by the Judicial Service Commission.

There are eleven Constitutional Court justices who serve a non-renewable term of 12 years.

HIV activist Zackie Achmat told The Star newspaper he had spoken to the judge after his appointment was announced on New Year’s Eve by President Kgalema Motlanthe.

“I think this is one of the most important events in his life,” he said.

“The Constitutional Court needs judges who will continue its legacy of independence and rigour.”

Justice Cameron’s appointment to the Constitutional Court had been blocked by former President Thabo Mbeki.

“I was a gay man who came to terms with being a homosexual about 20 years ago,” Justice Cameron told the BBC in 2005.

“And not long after I came out.

“I was infected with HIV.

“I experienced the diagnosis not only as a terrible shock because it was without my consent or knowledge but I also had this tremendous feeling of shame, a sense of contamination, of defilement.

“I thought the shame about my HIV diagnosis was because I’d got it as a gay man, and I was wrong.

“At that very time in Africa, we began to realise – it had been evident for the past few years – this was going to be a mass heterosexual epidemic.”

He has campaigned against criminalisation of HIV exposure and transmission and spoke at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City in August.

“HIV is a virus, not a crime,” he said.