George Bizos, the veteran human rights activist and lawyer who died this week aged 92, has been acknowledged in tributes for his contribution to freedom and justice in South Africa.
Bizos served on the defence team in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, during which began what became a life-long friendship with former President Nelson Mandela. He also represented the families of a number of struggle stalwarts at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, notably the families of Chris Hani, Matthew Goniwe, Steve Biko, Fort Calata, and Jeannette Schoon, and, earlier, the families of Ahmed Timol, Steve Biko and Neil Aggett over their deaths in detention between 1971 and 1982.
Bizos was also a delegate to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, the negotiations to end apartheid, and helped in drafting the country’s interim Constitution.
Bizos came to South Africa with his father as a 13-year-old in 1941, having fled Nazi-occupied Greece during the Second World War. Being unable to speak English, he did not go to school for his first two years in the country, but later went on to study law at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1949, where he gained a BA, followed by an LLB.
Apart from his human rights activism and legal activism, Bizos also helped found a private school, Saheti, in the 1970s. The school was based on non-racial principles and was open to pupils of all races. In a statement, the school said: ‘We are privileged as a school to have benefited from the life of a man who gave of his time and energy contributing to the shaping of Saheti as we know it. As a community, we have walked alongside a man who has become an icon of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. As a great role model, he stood up for freedom and justice.’
Limpho Hani, the widow of Chris Hani, described Bizos as the ‘most decent human being I have ever met in my whole life’.
[Picture: Aya Chebbi, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44569174]