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Remembering A Hero: South Africans Mourn The Demise Of George Bizos

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(Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

The top anti-apartheid human rights lawyer, who was famously part of the legal team that defended Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, and Walter Sisulu at the Rivonia Treason Trial, died of ‘natural causes’ on Wednesday at the age of 92.  

When he was once asked to speak about George Bizos, former South African president Nelson Mandela said: “I don’t think words can sufficiently express our indebtedness to men and women like George Bizos.” 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), as well as South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, confirmed the passing of the lawyer who advocated and campaigned against apartheid. 

“Another giant of South African history and of global struggles for justice has fallen,” the foundation’s Chief Executive Sello Hatang said in a statement.  

“The news of George Bizos’ passing is sad news for us in South Africa… He contributed immensely to the attainment of our democracy,” said Ramaphosa, during an engagement with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) on Wednesday evening.  

Ramaphosa also stated in the briefing that he had spoken to Bizos two months ago and it did appear that his “health was already not in good shape”.  

“Today, as we mourn George’s passing, we acknowledge his role in shaping the democracy we all enjoy today. He is, without a doubt, a hero of the struggle. South Africa has lost another exceptional son,” said filmmaker Anant Singh, who made the Mandela biopic, The Long Walk to Freedom.  

Beyond the trial, Mandela’s and Bizos’s seven-decade friendship was “legendary”. Recalling their friendship in its statement, the NMF noted how in the last years of Mandela’s life, Bizos and the former president were often found together sharing memories or heading off to see places of significance in their life journeys. 

“He was really devoted to the cause,” Mandela said of Bizos, according to NMF. “When he appeared for us, he did not do so as a man who is appearing for strangers, he did so as his contribution to a great cause to which we were all committed.” 

Bizos met Mandela while studying at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1941. While practicing to be an attorney, Bizos became an activist for the African National Congress. From the 1950s, Bizos was often called to defend Mandela in court, including when he was part of the Madiba defense team for the Rivonia Trial in 1963.  

“He had an incisive legal mind and was one of the architects of our constitution,” Ramaphosa said in his message.

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