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Ivan Toms, doctor who battled policy of apartheid

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Associated Press / March 28, 2008

JOHANNESBURG - Ivan Toms, a South African doctor who played a key role in the campaign to end conscription of young white men to bolster apartheid security forces has died. He was 55.

Dr. Toms, director of health for Cape Town, was found dead in his home on Tuesday. Cape Town officials said he died of meningitis.

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

Dr. Toms, who opposed the actions of the apartheid defense force, was conscripted in 1978 and served six months as an army doctor in Namibia.

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.

The brutality of the security forces toward residents of the settlement made Dr. Toms decide that he would never again serve in the army. He became a founder of the End Conscription Campaign, a movement that opposed drafting white South African men.

In 1985 he went on a three-week hunger strike in opposition to the deployment of troops in black townships. "As a Christian, I am obliged to say no, to say never again will I put on that SADF uniform," he was quoted as saying.

Dr. Toms was jailed for refusing to serve in the defense force and was subjected to intimidation and harassment, including a "dirty tricks" campaign, which targeted Dr. Toms's homosexuality.

With the end of apartheid in 1994, Dr. Toms helped create a national AIDS program and pioneered the use of antiretroviral drugs in the fight against the HIV virus. He was also an outspoken advocate of gay rights.

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

"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," said a presidential statement accompanying the award.

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