South African activist and lawyer George Bizos died on Wednesday at the age of 92 of natural causes. The tireless lawyer had defended Nelson Mandela and, above all, made it possible for him to escape the death penalty.
South African lawyer George Bizos died on Wednesday, September 9, at the age of 92. This tireless human rights activist defended the hero in the fight against apartheid Nelson Mandela, whom he had become close to after allowing him to escape the death penalty. George Bizo died of natural causes in Johannesburg, his family said in a statement.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his death to reporters during an online briefing. “This is a very sad moment for our country,” he said, adding that George Bizosa was one of the “architects” of the South African constitution.
“Worth getting an Oscar”
This fine lawyer’s long career is inseparable from South Africa’s recent political history. During the years of oppression of the black majority, this white lawyer defends large militant figures from the African National Congress (ANC) who are fighting against the apartheid regime. When white power is falling, it participates in the development of the country’s new democratic constitution.
And when apartheid is abolished, it contributes to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is responsible for investigating the political crimes of the old regime.
“If GeorgeBizos had not been a lawyer, he would have been an Oscar-worthy actor,” said Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu on his 80th birthday.
The lawyer of Greek origin joined the team of lawyers in 1963 who were responsible for defending a dozen leading ANC officials, including Mandela, during the so-called de Rivonia trial.
The accused are charged with sabotage and face the death penalty. Most will, to everyone’s surprise, be sentenced to life in prison.
Verkligen he is really one of the people we talk about the least in our history books, but still his role was fundamental in the fight against apartheid.
Great respect for Mr Bizoshttps://t.co/H6DWzPvaHV
– JeanFrancois Reymond (@ JFReymond5) September 10, 2020
“An ideal I am ready to die for”
GeorgeBizos is credited with the successful strategy adopted by Mandela, who in the bar had left an appeal in the form of a profession of faith that has been known.
“I loved the ideal of a free and democratic society where all people would live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” said the head of the ANC’s armed wing. “It is an ideal for which I hope to live and act. But if necessary, it is an ideal I am ready to die for.”
The lawyer had recommended that his client add “if necessary”, in order to prevent the regime in its comments from seeing a call to become a martyr and sentence him to death.
He would continue to defend Nelson Mandela for the 27 years he spent behind bars, until he became one of his closest friends.
The two men had met on the benches of the Johannesburg School of Law in the 1950s before working together as a lawyer.
In 1993, GeorgeBizos was on a trip to Oslo, when Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also given the sensitive task of executing the will of the former South African president, who died in 2013.
“Compassionate” and “insightful”
In his autobiography “The Long March to Freedom”, Mandela described him as “a man of both compassion and insight.”
Born in Greece in 1927, George Bizos arrived in South Africa as a teenager and fled with his father in 1941, his country occupied by the Nazis.
Arrived with a few words of English in his pocket, he passed the law exam and quickly became the specialist in the issues that attracted the anger of the apartheid government.
After the Rivonia trial, he defends the family of Steve Biko, who died in 1977 during the battles of the racist regime police, and the communist leader Chris Hani, murdered in 1993.
He announces his pension several times. But the courtroom’s appeal is too strong for someone whose mustache has turned white and his gait has slowed down.
In 2003, he defended Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, accused of treason against then-President Robert Mugabe. The opponent is acquitted.
“No matter how oppressed a regime is, the court is the last place an oppressed person can speak out,” says GeorgeBizos.
After 34 minors shot in South Africa in 2012, the old lawyer once again killed his attire to defend the families of the victims of the worst massacre that the police have committed since the end of apartheid.