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OBITUARIES / Ivan Toms, 1953 - 2008

South African doctor opposed conscription

March 30, 2008|From the Associated Press

Ivan Toms, a white South African doctor who played a key role in the campaign to end conscription of young white men to bolster the country's apartheid security forces, was found dead Tuesday in his Cape Town home. He was 55.

Toms, director of health for Cape Town, died of meningitis, a city spokesman said.

"He was a fighter against apartheid and for human and democratic rights," Mcebisi Skwatsha, secretary of the African National Congress in the Western Cape, told the South African Press Assn. "The passing of Ivan Toms is a great loss to the people of the city and the country."

Toms was born in Cape Town in 1953 and earned his medical degree at the University of Cape Town in 1976.

Although opposed to the actions of the apartheid defense force, he was conscripted in 1978 for a two-year stint and served as a noncombatant army doctor in Namibia, at the time a South African protectorate.

On his return to Cape Town, he set up a clinic in the growing squatter settlement of Crossroads, where he was the only doctor caring for 60,000 people.

Because of the brutality of the security forces toward residents of the settlement, Toms decided he would never again serve in the army.

He became a founding member of the End Conscription Campaign, a movement that opposed drafting white South African men.

Toms was one of several white men jailed for refusing to serve in the defense force; he also was subjected to intimidation and harassment that targeted his homosexuality.

With the end of apartheid in 1994, Toms helped create a national AIDS program and pioneered the use of antiretrovirals drugs in the fight against HIV.

He also was an outspoken advocate of gay rights.

In 2006, President Thabo Mbeki awarded Toms the Order of the Baobab in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to the struggle against apartheid and sexual discrimination."

"Toms is a remarkable individual who has always had the courage of his convictions," a presidential statement accompanying the award states. "He could easily have lived a life of privilege and comfort but opted instead to reflect on the realities of the country and to take a bold stand against the injustices he witnessed."

Toms is survived by a brother, Charles, of Australia.

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