Renowned human rights lawyer George Bizos has died
Renowned human rights activist and lawyer George Bizos has died. He was 91.
During the height of apartheid, Bizos dedicated his professional career to the fight for human rights. He represented Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in both the Treason and Rivonia trials.
He also appeared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), representing families of liberation heroes such as Steve Bantu Biko, Chris Hani and the Cradock Four, according to SA History Online.
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director Neeshan Balton tweeted that a “towering giant” had fallen.
“We are immensely saddened by the news of the passing of George Bizos, a towering giant in so many facets of our liberation struggle. Now all the Rivonia trialists are joined by the last member of their legal team. Hamba kahle, Uncle George,” tweeted Balton.
- @KathradaFound we are immensely saddened by the news of the passing of George Bizos. A towering giant in so many facets of our liberation struggle. Now all the Rivonia trialists are joined by the last member of their legal team. Hamba Kahle Uncle George.— Neeshan Balton (@NeeshanB) September 9, 2020
The Legal Resources Centre said in a statement that Bizos "died peacefully at home of natural causes, attended to by family".
He played an "instrumental role in the negotiations for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. Together with Arthur Chaskalson and others, he assisted in the drafting of our democratic constitution, which he then defended vigorously," it said.
"George was a lifelong campaigner against the death penalty and led the team that successfully acted for the government arguing that the death penalty was unconstitutional."
Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola described Bizos as a “legal giant”.
“He gained prominence through thorough arguments in cases which were driven by the apartheid regime in its quest to derail the freedom struggles of our people. These cases thrust him in the public eye and also made him an enemy of the apartheid regime,” Lamola said in a statement.
“Not many legal practitioners confronted the injustices faced by political activists more than Bizos, and his work will continue to inspire a generation of upcoming practitioners. We are grateful for the lasting legacy he has left.
“We commiserate with his family, loved ones, colleagues and all who knew him. The outpouring of grief in the legal profession and throughout the country bears testimony to the noble role that advocate Bizos played.”
The Saheti School, of which Bizos was chair of the board, issued a statement of condolences.
“We are privileged as a school to have benefited from the life of a man who gave of his time and energy contributing to the shaping of Saheti as we know it,” the statement reads.
“As a community, we have walked alongside a man who has become an icon of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. As a great role model, he stood up for freedom and justice.”
Bizos was born in Greece and arrived in South Africa in 1941 as a World War II refugee with his father.
During the celebration of late anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada's 89th birthday in 2018, Bizos called on South Africans to espouse the values of non-racialism as enshrined in the constitution that Mandela and the likes of Kathrada had fought for.
“In our constitution it is stated that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. There is a tendency recently which may affect this ideal negatively because there is a small group of South Africans who say Mandela betrayed South Africa in the constitution when he said South Africa belongs to all who live in it,” he said.
“There is even a smaller group of people who say that there are people who are not South Africans but people from outside the country, and this includes certain religions.
“South Africa belongs to all who live in it and we must all support it. Neither you nor I are lesser South African.”