JOHANNESBURG – Advocate George Bizos has died on Wednesday.
Bizos loved to tell the story of the phone call he received from Cyril Ramaphosa – with a message from Nelson Mandela asking him to join the team to write the Constitution.
There was no hesitation, and his only question was whether he would have to join the African National Congress (ANC).
“When Mr Nelson Mandela was released, the story from on the farm from the present vice president [Cyril Ramaphosa], was ‘George, Nelson told me; and to tell Arthur Chaskalson, that the two of you have got to a role of doing the Constitution for South Africa.’ ‘Oh, thank you Cyril…does that mean that I have got to become a member of the ANC?’ and he said, ‘no don’t worry about that.”
At this stage Bizos had already earned Madiba’s respect, his fellow treason trialists and the ANC.
He was widely praised as an anti-apartheid activist and champion for human rights.
During World War 2, 13-year-old Bizos fled Nazi-occupied Greece and would go on to play a pivotal role in South Africa’s democracy.
He was born on 15 November 1927.
Bizos arrived in South Africa with his father in 1941 and first settled in Durban.
Six years later, he applied to study medicine at the University of Witwatersrand.
His application was rejected, so he opted for law and that’s where his political activism was ignited.
Bizos represented several political activists in high profile cases during his career – and never stopped working, even in his old age.
He also represented families of apartheid-era victims, including widows of the Cradock Four who were brutally killed by security forces.
In 2012, the veteran human rights lawyer led the South African Human Rights Commission at the inquiry into the Marikana Massacre which left 34 miners dead at the hands of the police – 78 others were wounded.
Bizos drew parallels between the violence on the platinum belt and the Sharpville massacre of 1960.
He later took on the cause of the miners at the courts.
At the inquest into the murder of political activist Ahmed Timol – an emotional Bizos spoke of the importance of constantly pursuing justice.
“Justice is something that you have to pursue, a single judgement can help; and I am sure that it will. I want to congratulate the Timol family and the extended family that took the battle up. We have been working on it for almost two and a half years.”
His work also went beyond the borders.
In 2004 he represented the late Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai after was charged with high treason by the Zimbabwean government.
The human rights champion was also passionate about education and in the 1970s helped start Greek school Saheti in Johannesburg.
Praised as the struggle stalwart of stalwarts, Bizos was also a family man.
He was married to Rita Daflos, who died in 2017 – just before his 90th birthday.
Together they had three sons.