Human rights activist and lawyer George Bizos has died. File photo: MOELETSI MABE
Human rights activist and lawyer George Bizos has died. File photo: MOELETSI MABE

Renowned human rights activist and lawyer George Bizos has died.

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

His family said when contacted they are preparing a statement.

“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.

He died at the age of 91.

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

He represented Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in both the treason and Rivonia trials.

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 nonracialism as enshrined in the constitution that Mandela and the likes of Kathrada had fought for.

“In our constitution it is stated that SA 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 SA in the constitution when he said SA 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.

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

Bizos was born in Greece and arrived in SA in 1941 as a World War 2 refugee with his father.

The Saheti School, of which Bizos was chair of the board, issued a statement of condolences.

“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,” the statement reads.

“As a community, we have walked alongside a man who has become an icon of the struggle against apartheid in SA. As a great role model, he stood up for freedom and justice.”

Business Unity SA CEO Cas Coovadia said Bizos always spoke truth to power, be it against the apartheid regime or against the corruption of leaders in our society today. “We must, as South Africans, honour his life by following his example of humility, honesty and dedication as we lead our country out of the impact of Covid-19 and reposition our economy to be inclusive and ethical,” said Coovadia.

Bizos also played a critical role in the mentorship and grooming of young attorneys, pursuing human rights work. “While here, he worked dutifully to ensure that the rights enshrined in the constitution remain applicable to all people, especially the poor. Notably, he led the LRC’s  legal interventions on behalf of the families of those slain at Marikana,” Thabo Ramphobole, spokesperson for the Legal Resources Centre said Wednesday.

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