‘Mythological’: Death of prominent human rights lawyer George Bijos | news

Anti-apartheid campaigner and human rights advocate George Bijos, who defended Nelson Mandela during South Africa’s decades-long struggle for democracy, has died.

He was 92 years old.

Bizos died “peacefully” at his home in Johannesburg of “natural causes”, his family said late Wednesday.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the news of Bijos’ death was “very sad for us as a country”.

Ramaphosa said, “A decisive legal mind and architect of our Constitution, he contributed greatly to our democracy. We express our deepest condolences to his family and bow our heads in his honor.”

George Bijos, leftist, anti-apartheid activist and lifelong friend and lawyer for Nelson Mandela, right, arrives in Johannesburg for his 80th birthday party [File: Denis Farrell/AP Photo]

Drove the nazis

Bizos was born in 1927 in Vassiliti, southern Greece. In 1941 he escaped from the Nazi occupation of Greece in a small robite with his father to South Africa, which had been swept into the Mediterranean Sea after being picked up by a British destroyer. .

He described these events in his 2007 memoir, Odyssey to Freedom.

“Despite being a beneficiary of apartheid as a WW2 refugee in Settlers Colony, South Africa, he intertwined his life in our independent search,” said Thandi Matthews, senior researcher at the South African Human Rights Commission.

In South Africa, Bizos studied at the University of Law, University of Johannesburg, where he met Mandela and the two became lifelong friends.

Bijos represented Mandela and anti-apartheid activist Walter Sisulu in the historic treason trial, which began in 1956 and ended in 1961 with all defendants acquitted.

He represented Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia Trial when Mandela and others were sentenced to life imprisonment for overthrowing the apartheid government.

Over the years, he defended many political activists, including anti-apartheid icon Winnie Medicizela-Mandela, and the family of the Black Consciousness Movement protagonist Steve Biko and freedom fighter Chris Hani.

Bizos also represented Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsawangirai, who was acquitted of treason in 2004.

“Was a great human being and one of South Africa’s greatest human rights fighters,” said Adam Habib, vice chancellor of the University of Witwatersand.

‘Fight against evil and injustice’

Bizos continued to be active in old age. After his retirement in 1990, he joined the Legal Resource Center (LRC) in his constitutional litigation unit as a lawyer.

As part of the LRC, Bijos appeared before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and represented some of the families of the 34 striking quarry workers killed by police in August 2012.

LRC Chairperson Nersan Govender said, “In his time at LRC, George played a key role in preparing young lawyers who wanted to advance human rights work.”

Howard Varney, who worked with Bizos at LRC, said: “The passing of Bizos removes a cherished link to the historic fight against evil and injustice.”

He received several awards for his lifelong struggle for justice. In 1999, Mandela – who became the first black president of South Africa in 1994 – gave the Order of Meritorious Service to Bijos.

Sympathy and humanity

Since the news of his death has come, there has been an influx of those who paid tribute to Bijos.

Former judge of South Africa’s Constitutional Court and Albie Sachs said, “George was imprisoned on camera with tears in his face as he was with those who were defending alongside Arthur Chalkson in the Delamus Trason trial . ” Human rights activist.

“He was always warm-hearted, passionate, passionate, brave and very majestic – this was in a profession renowned for its coolness, rigor and opportunism.”

Senior advocate of the Johannesburg Bar Association, Vim Trengove, said: “Bijos had an extraordinary combination of tenacity and gentle humanity. He fought the heroic government in front of hostile courts for months and years. To do so he took supernatural power and tenacity. ”

And John Dugard, a professor of international law and a friend of the bizos, recalled: “No lawyer tried more to protest the injustice of apartheid in South Africa than George Bizos. He not only legal advice but those Was unique among lawyers in giving moral support to people. He defended. His sympathy for the suffering of those who opposed apartheid was legendary. ”

Bijos is survived by three sons and seven grandchildren.