South Africans mourn the loss of George Bizos, He was a close friend of late South African president Nelson Mandela and over more than twenty years came to regard him as a friend and trusted adviser to the organisation. Another giant of South African history and of global struggles for justice has fallen.
He was born in 1928 in Kirani, Greece, and arrived with his father in South Africa at the young aged of 13 then as a refugee from World War 2.
Bizos went to the University of the Witwatersrand and was admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 1954.
“Bizos was always available to support our events and to lend an ear to our challenges,” Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang said. “He became like a well-loved uncle to us. We were in awe of him, yet he always engaged us with humility, affection, and respect.”
The friendship between him and Mandela spanned more than seven decades and was legendary. In the last years of Mandela’s life, they were often to be found together, just catching up, sharing memories, or heading off on car rides to see, one more time, places of significance in their life journeys Whenever he was asked to talk about Bizos, Mandela turned to words of gratitude.
As he once said: “I don’t think words can sufficiently express our indebtedness to men and women like George Bizos.”
The two of them had met as law students at the University of the Witwatersrand soon after Mandela arrived in Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape in 1941. While Mandela did not finish his degree then, he practiced as an attorney while becoming an activist in ANC and other structures. Bizos went on to become an advocate, and Mandela would often brief him in cases he was defending. As the anti-apartheid struggle intensified through the 1950s, Bizos was often called upon to defend Mandela in court.
And in the 1963-4 Rivonia Trial, Bizos was a member of the defence team. “He was really devoted to the cause,” Mandela said of Bizos. “When he appeared for us, he did not do so as a man who is appearing for strangers, he did so as his contribution to a great cause to which we were all committed.”
Bizos played a critical role through the years of Mandela’s incarceration, both professionally and as a family friend. Speaking a couple of years after his release from prison, Mandela said that Bizos had “behaved like a brother” to him while he was in jail. “He looked after my family, after my children, advised my children and he made me feel that although I’m in prison, my affairs are being looked after by a man I know and I trust.”
Bizos was also a vital conduit of information between Mandela and the external ANC leadership.
“At a moment like this,” Hatang said, “we remember Madiba and a whole generation of South Africans who endured much and achieved more. We owe it to them to keep walking that long walk to freedom.”
Press Statement on the passing of Adv. George Bizos SC
Date: 9 September 2020
Issued by the LRC, the Bizos Family, and the George Bizos Saheti Scholarship and Bursary Fund
The Bizos family, the Legal Resources Centre, and the George Bizos SAHETI Scholarship and Bursary Fund are sad to report the passing of Advocate George Bizos SC at 17.30 today, Wednesday 9 September. George, 92 years old, died peacefully at home of natural causes, attended to by family.
The LRC (www.lrc.org.za) salutes George, who made an enormous contribution to the ongoing work of the Centre. From its inception in 1978 he assisted in the background while pursuing his illustrious career, then joined the LRC in 1991, using our Centre as a base in key litigation including leading the team for the government in passing the Constitution in 1996, representing families of apartheid atrocities at the TRC, leading the LRC team at the Marikana Commission, seeking justice for the Timol and other families of people murdered in detention, and of course many other lesser-known cases, always seeking justice for victims of injustice.
George played an enormous role in mentoring many in the legal profession inside and outside the LRC, some of whom have progressed to very senior positions in the profession and the judiciary.
Outside of the LRC George had a well-established practice as an Advocate from 1954, mostly defending opponents of apartheid, and held many other appointments including serving on the Judicial Services Commission (1994 – 2009), an Acting Judge in the High Court of South Africa, and a Judge on the Appeal Court in Botswana, to name a few.
He was the recipient of numerous Honorary Doctorates and national and international awards. Notably, he was awarded an Order for Meritorious Service Medal by President Nelson Mandela in 1999. He also played an instrumental role in the negotiations for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners and together with Arthur Chaskalson and others, assisted in the drafting of our democratic constitution, which he then defended vigorously.
George was a lifelong campaigner against the use of the death penalty and led the team that successfully acted for the Government arguing that the death penalty was unconstitutional.
George had a passion for education and was, with a cohort of others, instrumental in establishing SAHETI School more than 45 years ago with a vision – even during the dark years of apartheid, and sometimes in defiance of the apartheid regime of having a Hellenic School open to all that has come to full fruition. In support of that George established the George Bizos SAHETI Scholarship and Bursary Fund many years ago.
He was an avid member of the work of the Committees for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, both in South Africa and in the UK.
There are many other institutions with which George has been associated such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Freedom Under Law, and Lawyers for Human Rights. We celebrate the life of George, lived so well, and with boundless energy, optimism and selflessness. He served so many in the cause of justice.
George is survived by his three sons and seven grandchildren.
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