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Ivan Peter Toms

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 15 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1136
  1. Pat Sidley

One of South Africa’s outstanding human rights activists

Ivan Peter Toms survived a rich array of contradictions in South Africa and could count among his achievements earning the wrath of the apartheid government and the honour of the current president of South Africa.

He was a white (classified by apartheid’s racial bookkeepers) rugby playing, academically high achieving, Christian who was conscripted into the South African Defence Force as a non-combatant doctor and served his two years in the military. He graduated as a doctor at the University of Cape Town, then reserved by law for white people.

But that was where his similarities with most other young white men ended. He was openly gay, fought for gay rights, and opposed continuing army service, accordingly spending time in prison. He built, opened, and ran a clinic in a squatter camp in Cape Town and clashed head on with apartheid’s revulsion at all he stood for.

A devout Anglican, his openness about his gay status was not always warmly greeted by his church. He did, however, have the backing of many prominently anti-apartheid priests and bishops in the church. Chief among these was Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, who on hearing of his death thanked God for having been able to know him.

Cape Town’s mayor, Ms …

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