George Bizos: Anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Mandela dies aged 92


Nelson Mandela's lawyer and friend George Bizos is pictured in Johannesburg in 2018

image copyrightAFP

image captionGeorge Bizos is best known for defending Nelson Mandela at his trials

Top South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who famously defended Nelson Mandela, has died aged 92.

After representing some of the country’s best known political activists during the apartheid years, Mr Bizos became one of the architects of South Africa’s new constitution.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his death, saying Mr Bizos had “contributed immensely to our democracy”.

His family said he “died peacefully at home of natural causes”.

Leading tributes on Wednesday, President Ramaphosa described Mr Bizos as an “incisive legal mind”, and said his death was “very sad for us as a country”.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said “another giant of South African history and of global struggles for justice has fallen.”

What was his relationship with Mandela?

George Bizos is most widely known for his work with Nelson Mandela.

The pair met while studying law in Johannesburg and Mr Bizos went on to represent his friend and other anti-apartheid figures in various court cases.

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He was one of the lawyers who represented Mandela at his treason trial, which began in 1956.

He also represented Mandela during the Rivonia Trial, when he and other anti-apartheid activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government.

Mr Bizos is credited with adding the words “if needs be” to Mandela’s famous speech at the trial, in which he said he was prepared to die.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said Mr Bizos played a “critical role… both professionally and as a family friend” during the years of Mandela’s incarceration.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes Mr Bizos as “a man who combined a sympathetic nature with an incisive mind”.

The foundation said the friendship between the men “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,” it added.

What else do we know about him?

George Bizos was born in Greece but came to South Africa at the age of 13 as a World War Two refugee.

Before moving to South Africa, he and his father helped seven New Zealand soldiers to escape Nazi-occupied Greece.

He fell out of education for an extended period of time and worked instead in a Greek shop, after arriving in Johannesburg with no English.

He later trained as a lawyer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand university, before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar.

After the end of white minority rule, Mr Bizos helped to write South Africa’s new constitution. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists who had been killed during apartheid at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In one of his last major trials, he secured government payouts for families of 34 mine workers who were killed by South African police in 2012.

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Related Topics

  • Apartheid

  • Nelson Mandela
  • South Africa