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RIP George Bizos: A man of courage, intellect and integrity

RIP George Bizos: A man of courage, intellect and integrity
Advocate Bizos at the Apartheid Musuem during the launch of the book, The Man who Killed Apartheid: The Life of Dimitri Tsafendas Photo:Ahmed Kathrada Foundation/Zaakirah Vadi

Today we fight back our tears in memory of Adv George Bizos, a great South African who dedicated his life to fighting apartheid through the courts. We reiterate Ahmed Kathrada’s remarks about Adv Bizos: “He stands in that long tradition of great human beings who, although not born in this country, did so much to contribute to its well-being.”

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation recalls the extremely close personal friendship between its founder, Ahmed Kathrada, and the late Bizos. We remember Bizos fighting back tears at the Westpark Cemetery as he remembered the life and times of Kathrada. At the time, Bizos said “Kathy” was known for dedicating his life to the cause of the Struggle and the realisation of freedom in South Africa. 

“He was a brave man. He had a sense of humour,” recalled an emotional Bizos. 

At various gatherings where Bizos would be present, Kathrada would jokingly say, “What’s George Bizos doing here? He sent us to jail.” Bizos would reply softly, stating that Kathrada should thank him for saving him and the other Rivonia trialists from the gallows.

George Bizos, who was one of the lawyers in the Timol inquest, and Steve Biko Foundation CEO, Obenewa Amponsah, in the background.Photo: Ahmed Kathrada Foundation/Zaakirah Vadi

Today we fight back our tears in memory of George Bizos, a great South African who dedicated his life to fighting apartheid through the courts. We reiterate Kathrada’s remarks about Bizos: “He stands in that long tradition of great human beings who, although not born in this country, did so much to contribute to its well-being.”

George Bizos was a highly respected, renowned and internationally acclaimed South African lawyer. He was an outstanding human rights activist who made his mark under apartheid while defending ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada at the 1964 Rivonia Trial. 

A personal friend of Mandela and Oliver Tambo, Bizos acted for the Mandela-Tambo law firm long before Tambo went into exile and Mandela went on trial. He also successfully defended a host of ANC women leaders such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Barbara Hogan in numerous political trials since the 1960s. 

He was appointed by former presidents Mandela and Thabo Mbeki to the Judicial Services Commission to recommend candidates for judicial office, and to reform the judicial system. He served as a judge on Botswana’s Court of Appeal between 1985 and 1993. He acted as Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre: Constitutional Litigation Unit, since 1991. 

Bizos played a role in all the major political trials over 50 years in the Struggle against apartheid – including the Treason and Rivonia Trials; the Nusas Five Trial; the Delmas Treason Trial, and the inquests into the deaths of activists Ahmed Timol, Steve Biko and Neil Aggett. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he opposed the applications for amnesty on behalf of the Biko, Hani, Goniwe, Calata, Mkonto, Mhlauli, Slovo and Schoon families. 

In 1974 he was instrumental in establishing the SAHETI School. Its doors were open to all, welcoming widely diverse communities to share in its Hellenic values-driven, universal education. 

He has received numerous prestigious South African and international awards for his work in promoting democracy and human rights. 

On 10 June 1999, Bizos received the Order for Meritorious Service: Class II, bestowed on him by then president Nelson Mandela, as well as appointed Commander of the Order of the Phoenix by the president of Greece for his contribution to Hellenism and the teaching of Greek. 

In 2001, he received the International Trial Lawyer Prize of the Year by the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He had been awarded honorary doctorates by the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Cyprus and Port Elizabeth. He was granted “Freedom of the City” from Athens (2010), London (2016) and Johannesburg (2016).

Bizos has written three books: No One to Blame, Odyssey to Freedom and 65 Years of Friendship.

He was married to the late Arethe Bizos (nee Daflos) and is survived by three sons and seven grandchildren.

Hamba Kahle Adv Bizos. Your wise legal counsel and immense love for freedom will be sorely missed! DM

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

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