Ramaphosa pays moving tribute to George Bizos

Advocate George Bizos SC with ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni, who passed away in July.
Advocate George Bizos SC with ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni, who passed away in July.
Image: Masi Losi

President Cyril Ramaphosa last night paid tribute to renowned human rights lawyer and activist George Bizos who died of natural causes at his home yesterday afternoon. He was 92.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ahmed Kathrada Foundation also joined many South Africans and other organisations in paying tribute to the veteran lawyer who represented Struggle icons Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in both the Treason and Rivonia trials.

Ramaphosa, addressing SA National Editors Forum, said: "The news about George Bizos's passing is sad news for us as South Africans. He is one of those lawyers who contributed immensely to the attainment of our democracy. As a government we extend our condolences to his family and we also extend our condolences to the rest of all of us as South Africans…"

Ramaphosa said when he spoke to Bizos two months ago, he was unwell.

The president said Bizos had an incisive legal mind and was also one of the architects of SA's constitution.

"We dip our heads in honour of the contribution that George Bizos has made to our democracy… we will forever remember his contribution," he said.

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director Neeshan Balton tweeted that a  "towering giant” had fallen.

“We are immensely saddened by the news of the passing of George Bizos, a towering giant in so many facets of our liberation Struggle. Now all the Rivonia trialists are joined by the last member of their legal team. Hamba kahle, Uncle George,” tweeted Balton.

At the height of apartheid, Bizos, a practicing attorney, dedicated his professional career to the fight for human rights.

He also appeared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), representing families of liberation heroes such as Steve Bantu Biko, Chris Hani and the Cradock Four, according to SA History Online.

During the celebration of late anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada's 89th birthday in 2018, Bizos called on South Africans to espouse the values of non-racialism as enshrined in the constitution that Mandela and the likes of Kathrada had fought for.

"In our constitution it is stated that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. There is a tendency recently which may affect this ideal negatively because there is a small group of South Africans who say Mandela betrayed South Africa in the constitution when he said South Africa belongs to all who live in it," he said.

"There is even a smaller group of people who say that there are people who are not South Africans but people from outside the country, and this includes certain religions. 

"South Africa belongs to all who live in it and we must all support it. Neither you nor I are lesser South African." 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation described the loss as a "hard blow" for the foundation.

"We got to know him as a close friend of Nelson Mandela and over more than twenty years came to regard him as a friend and trusted adviser to the organisation. Our thoughts are with his family, comrades and associates at this difficult time.

"Ntate Bizos was always available to support our events and to lend an ear to our challenges," said the foundation's chief executive Sello Hatang.

"He became like a well-loved uncle to us. We were in awe of him, yet he always engaged us with humility, affection, and respect," he said.

In a joint media statement, the Bizos family, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), and the George Bizos SAHETI Scholarship and Bursary Fund said they were sad to report the passing of  Bizos.

"The LRC salutes George, who made an enormous contribution to the ongoing work of the centre.

"From its inception in 1978, he assisted in the background while pursuing his illustrious career, then joined the LRC in 1991, using our centre as a base in key litigation including leading the team for the government in passing the constitution in 1996; representing families of apartheid atrocities at the the TRC, leading the LRC team at the Marikana Commission, seeking justice for the Timol and other families of people murdered in detention, and of course many other lesser known cases, always seeking justice for victims of injustice. George played an enormous role in mentoring many in the legal profession inside and outside the LRC, some of whom have progressed to very senior positions in the profession and the judiciary," read the statement.

Bizos had a well-established practice from 1954, mostly defending opponents of apartheid. He held many other positions, including serving on the Judicial Services Commission between 1994 and 2009. He also acted as a high court judge in SA and a judge in Botswana's Apela Court, read the statement.

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