As tributes pour in from across the globe following the death of iconic human rights lawyer and Freeman of the City, Advocate George Bizos, the Executive Mayor, Cllr Geoff Makhubo has hailed the anti-apartheid stalwart for his exemplary commitment to equality.
Bizos died of natural causes on Wednesday, 9 September at his home in Johannesburg aged 92. The veteran legal eagle is well-known for representing Rivonia trialists such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi before they were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1964.
“His commitment to human rights and the law to advance these rights, even at the darkest hour of our nation, remains exemplary. His willingness to offer his talents for the greater good of many when he could easily have chosen to enrich himself or be indifferent to the plight of the marginalised serves as the high watermark of commitment to the oppressed and the excluded in the world,” Cllr Makhubo explains.
Bizos arrived in South Africa at the age of 13 with his father in 1941. They were World War II refugees picked up from an open boat off Crete, from where they were taken to a refugee camp in Alexandria, Egypt. Next stop was Durban, and then up to Johannesburg where the local Greek community smoothed their entry into the city.
He’s worked as an advocate in Johannesburg for over 50 years, and since 1990 had been working at the Legal Resources Centre and the Constitutional Litigation Unit as counsel to 40 lawyers. He dedicated his working life fighting for basic human rights under apartheid, and since its collapse, he has fought to ensure that those rights, guaranteed under the Constitution, are accorded to all South Africans.
His contribution to South Africa has been widely acknowledged. In 1999 he received the Order for Meritorious Service Class II medal from then-president Mandela. He was a judge on Botswana's Court of Appeal from 1985 to 1993; a member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in 1999; leader of the team for the Constituent Assembly before the Constitutional Court to certify the country's new Constitution. In 1994 he was appointed to the Judicial Services Commission to recommend candidates for judicial office and reforms to the judicial system.
“Bizos’ contribution to human rights and constitutionalism is immense. Indeed, a curtain of the golden era has fallen. We truly extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and all freedom-loving people across the globe. If 92 years of Public Interest Law was a person, it would be George Bizos,” says Cllr Makhubo.
In a heartfelt statement, the Nelson Mandela Foundation notes that Bizos’ friendship with the former statesman spanned more than seven decades.
“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,” says Sello Hatang, the Foundation’s Chief Executive.
Additional reporting by Lucille Davie