George Bizos

George Bizos (Greek: Γιώργος Μπίζος;[2] 14 November 1927 – 9 September 2020) was a Greek-South African human rights lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. He was noted for representing Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial. He instructed Mandela to add the qualification "if needs be" to his trial address, which is credited with sparing him from a sentence of death. Bizos also represented the families of anti-apartheid activists killed by the government, throughout the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

George Bizos
George Bizos 1 (cropped).jpg
Bizos in 2014
Born(1927-11-14)14 November 1927[1]
Died9 September 2020(2020-09-09) (aged 92)
NationalityGreek
South African
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand
OccupationHuman rights lawyer
Spouse
Arethe Daflos
(m. 1948; died 2017)
Children3

Early lifeEdit

Bizos was the son of Antonios "Antoni" Bizos, the mayor of the small village of Vasilitsi, south of Koroni and Kalamata on the Messenia peninsula of the Peloponnese, Greece.[3] He was born on 14 November 1927, although this was erroneously recorded on his South African identity documents as 1928, owing to his father's declaration to the authorities upon arrival in Egypt.[4]

In May 1941 at the age of thirteen, Bizos and his father helped seven New Zealand Army soldiers (Don Gladding, Mick Karup, Peter Martin, John Lewis and three others) who were hiding in the hills to escape the German-occupied Greek mainland for Crete. The 9 set out to sea at night, with only a cheap compass and a map torn from an atlas, intending to escape to Crete. On the second day at sea, rough winds took the sail out of control and tore through its canvas. The men had to take turns to row, right through the night, until they managed to repair the sail. On the third day, they spotted a ship in the distance. They managed to attract the attention of the crew of what turned out to be the British destroyer, HMS Kimberley, on its way to the Battle of Crete. After the battle, the Kimberley dropped him and his father off at Alexandria, Egypt.[5]

As a refugee, Bizos was sent to the Union of South Africa and landed in Durban.[6] From there he went by train to Johannesburg, disembarking at the Braamfontein railway station.[7] At the time, the Ossewabrandwag, an Afrikaner group with Nazi sympathies, were demonstrating against the arrival of refugees. The Ossewabrandwag blamed Jan Smuts for bringing the vuilgoed (rubbish) of Europe to South Africa. The local Greek community helped integrate him into society.[8]

Bizos did not go to school for his first two years in the country as he spoke neither English nor Afrikaans.[8] He gained entry to the University of the Witwatersrand in 1949, where he met Nelson Mandela[9] and undertook a 3-year Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a three-year LLB law degree. It was during this time that he first became politically active, joining the students' representative council under the leadership of Harold Wolpe.[7]

Legal careerEdit

Apartheid eraEdit

Bizos joined the Bar in Johannesburg in 1954.[7] During the 1950s and 1960s he was counsel to a wide range of well-known people including Trevor Huddleston of Sophiatown.[7]

At the Rivonia Trial from 1963 to 1964, Bizos was part of the team that defended Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu. The accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, but spared the death penalty. Although it is sometimes said that he claims to have drafted Mandela's famous speech spoken at the trial, he says that his main contribution was to advise the use of the words "if needs be" before Mandela said that he was prepared to die. Bizos believed that this may have contributed to the avoidance of the death penalty, by having Mandela not appear to seek martyrdom.[6] This trial saw the arrival of a group of human rights lawyers – Joel Joffe, Harry Schwarz, Arthur Chaskalson and Harold Hanson.[10]

Bizos was council for the accused in at least 26 other prominent anti-apartheid trials and inquests. In 1969 he acted for the defence of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and 21 others on charges of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act and Unlawful Organisations Act.[11] Together with Arthur Chaskalson and Dennis Kuny, he also represented the NUSAS Five who were charged with furthering the aims of the African National Congress and communism in 1975.[11]

Bizos subsequently became a senior member of the Johannesburg Bar in 1978. He was a member of the National Council of Lawyers for Human Rights, which he helped found in 1979. He was Senior Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre in Johannesburg in the Constitutional Litigation Unit. He also served as a judge on Botswana's Court of Appeal from 1985 to 1993.[12]

Post-apartheidEdit

Bizos became a member of the African National Congress' (ANC) Legal and Constitutional Committee in 1990,[12] and at Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) he served as advisor to the negotiating teams and participated in drawing up the Interim Constitution. He was involved in the drafting of legislation, and particularly the Truth and Reconciliation Bill and amendments to the Criminal Procedures Act, to bring it into line with Chapter 3 of the constitution, guaranteeing fundamental human rights to all citizens of South Africa.[13][14]

Bizos was retained as counsel at various inquests into the deaths of people in detention.[7] During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, he was the leader of the team that opposed applications for amnesty on behalf of the Biko, Hani,[8] Goniwe, Calata, Mkonto, Mhlauli, Slovo and Schoon families.[15]

Bizos was appointed by President Mandela to the Judicial Services Commission in 1994.[12] It was responsible for recommending candidates for appointment as judges, as well as proposing post-apartheid reforms to the judicial system. Bizos was the leader of the team for the South African Government to argue that the death penalty was unconstitutional,[16] and counsel for the National Assembly in the Certification of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court.[17] He later served as a legal advisor to Mandela in 2005, during a bitter legal dispute with the latter's former lawyer, Ismail Ayob.[18][19][20][21] He also represented the Chinese Association of South Africa in a case that ended in 2008 in which Chinese South Africans were granted 'previously disadvantaged' status, thus qualifying them for Black Economic Empowerment benefits.[22]

Film about RivoniaEdit

In 2017 Bizos appeared along with surviving defendants at the Rivonia Trial, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada, along with fellow defence lawyers Joel Joffe and Denis Kuny, in a documentary film entitled Life is Wonderful, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen,[23] which tells the story of the trial. The title reflects Goldberg's words to his mother at the end of the trial on hearing that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence.[24][25][26][27]

Notable people representedEdit

Bizos represented the following people, among others:

Other activitiesEdit

In the 1970s Bizos helped start a Greek school, called SAHETI. It embraced Hellenism, yet was non-exclusionist, even during the heart of apartheid. It was here that people like Chris Hani's children were educated.[31]

Two of Mandela's daughters brought court action in 2013 to oust Bizos, ex-Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale and lawyer Bally Chuene as directors of two of Mandela's firms. Bizos said that the daughters were trying to "get their hands on things that should not be sold". The case was delayed after the daughters' lawyer Ismail Ayob withdrew from the case.[32][33][34][35]

Personal life and deathEdit

Bizos was married to Arethe Daflos, known as "Rita", who he met in 1948 when she was an art student. The couple had three sons. Rita died in 2017, shortly before her husband's 90th birthday.[36][10][12]

Bizos died of natural causes at home on 9 September 2020 at the age of 92. He was given a special state funeral on 17 September and was buried at Westpark Cemetery next to his wife Rita.[37][38][39]

Honours and awardsEdit

LegacyEdit

  • George Bizos Saheti Scholarship and Bursary Fund[10]
  • Arethe Daflos-Bizos Arts Scholarship (announced on Bizos' 90th birthday to honour his late wife)[10]

WorksEdit

  • No One to Blame?: In Pursuit of Justice in South Africa. New Africa Books. 1998. ISBN 978-0-86486-319-5.
  • Odyssey to Freedom. South Africa: Penguin & Random House. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4152-0307-1.
  • 65 Years of Friendship. Penguin Random House South Africa. 2017. ISBN 9781415208861.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ New York Times obituary
  2. ^ Ατλας της Ελληνικης διασπορας, Volume 2, Alexandros, 2001, p. 428.
  3. ^ Isaacs, Doron (14 November 2017). "How two teachers helped George Bizos become a lawyer". GroundUp News. Archived from the original on 24 February 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  4. ^ Bizos, George (2017). 65 Years of Friendship. Penguin Random House South Africa. ISBN 9781415208861. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  5. ^ "Media Challenge: Who and Where Are the Seven?". International Bar Association. 22 October 2004. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b Alcock, Sello S. (16 November 2008). "Birthday tea with Bizos". Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bizos, George (October 1989). "Memoirs of George Bizos" (PDF). The memoirs of George Bizos, with emphasis on his legal career, as related to Thomas Karis and Gail Gerhart in New York, October 1989. Aluka. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b c Johnson, Angella (26 September 1997). "Greek patriarch of the struggle". Mail & Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  9. ^ Swart, Mia (10 September 2020). "'Legendary': Prominent human rights lawyer George Bizos dies". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d "Friends, family celebrate Bizos' 90th". Befordview and Edendale News. 6 December 2019. Archived from the original on 30 September 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  11. ^ a b de Villiers, James (10 September 2020). "EXPLAINER: The Treason Trial, Rivonia, Madikizela-Mandela: This is why George Bizos was the premier anti-apartheid lawyer". News24. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e "George Bizos". South African History Online. 17 February 2011. Archived from the original on 23 January 2019. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  13. ^ Marstine, Janet, ed. (23 May 2012). The Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics: Redefining Ethics for the Twenty-First Century Museum. Routledge. p. 175. ISBN 9781136715266. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  14. ^ a b c d e Cowell, Alan (9 September 2020). "George Bizos, Anti-Apartheid Lawyer Who Defended Mandela, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  15. ^ a b c d Austin, Andrew (7 November 2004). "Bizos' fight against apartheid". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  16. ^ Wicks, Jeff (9 September 2020). "Renowned human rights lawyer George Bizos has died". The Times. Johannesburg, South Africa. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  17. ^ a b "George Bizos". South African History Online. Archived from the original on 29 July 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  18. ^ Mabuza, Ernest (18 July 2005). "Bizos behind vicious campaign to discredit, defame me — Ayob". Business Day. Archived from the original on 21 December 2008.
  19. ^ "Mandela can still look after his own affairs : Bizos". SABCnews. 11 April 2005. Archived from the original on 11 April 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  20. ^ Moya, Fikile-Notsikelelo (5 August 2005). "Poor Ismail Ayob". Mail & Guardian Online. Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  21. ^ "Friday Khutbar – Ummah.com – Muslim Forum". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  22. ^ "Chinese qualify for BEE". News24. 18 June 2008. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  23. ^ Life is Wonderful Q&A on Vimeo
  24. ^ Life is Wonderful trailer on YouTube
  25. ^ Stadlen, Nick (Nicholas) (22 July 2018). "Unsung heroes: the men who stood trial with Mandela". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 23 April 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  26. ^ Green, Pippa (13 June 2018). "Apartheid history: Overlooked Rivonia triallists feted in Life is Wonderful". Business Day. Archived from the original on 23 April 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  27. ^ "'Life is Wonderful' screening reinforces call for such histories in curriculum". Nelson Mandela University. 15 June 2018. Archived from the original on 20 October 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  28. ^ Cape Times, 2 June 1982.
  29. ^ Gerhart, Gail M. (30 December 1990). "Trial by Color". The New York Times. p. 10. Archived from the original on 29 September 2019. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  30. ^ "George Bizos, Nelson Mandela's lawyer and anti-apartheid icon, dies at 92". The Guardian. London. Agence France-Presse. 10 September 2020. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  31. ^ Vithoulkas, Jeana (7 March 2010), "Hellenic ideals inspired anti apartheid fighter" at the Wayback Machine (archived 14 July 2011)
  32. ^ "Mandela Fades Amid Battles Over Who Will Claim Legacy". The New York Times. 15 May 2013. Archived from the original on 22 August 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  33. ^ "Nelson Mandela's children turn on his lawyer George Bizos". The Telegraph. AFP. 10 April 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2017. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  34. ^ "Nelson Mandela family feud deepens as Mandla hits back". BBC. 4 July 2013. Archived from the original on 16 August 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  35. ^ "Nelson Mandela court case delayed after Ayob withdraws". BBC. 29 July 2013. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  36. ^ "George Bizos honorary degree citation" (PDF). University of Cape Town. 2008. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  37. ^ "Human rights advocate George Bizos has died". The Citizen. 9 September 2020. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  38. ^ "George Bizos: Anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Mandela dies aged 92". BBC News. 9 September 2020. Archived from the original on 10 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  39. ^ "In memory of George Bizos (1928-2020)". Daily Maverick. Archived from the original on 9 September 2020. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  40. ^ "IBA announces George Bizos as winner of Bernard Simons Memorial Award" (Press release). The International Bar Association. 22 October 2004. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  Media related to George Bizos at Wikimedia Commons