South African legal minds pay tribute to George Bizos

Distinguished human rights advocate George Bizos, who died at the age of 92, has been remembered as a revered colleague and lawyer by some of South Africa's legal minds.

Following his death due to natural causes on Wednesday, retired Constitutional Court Justice Johan Kriegler told News24 that the country had lost a "giant and larger than life" advocate.

"Nobody who ever knew George Bizos wasn't profoundly moved in some way or another by this larger than life guy. I knew him for very close to 70 years," Kriegler said, reflecting on the time he spent with Bizos as his colleague.

Kriegler was founding chairman of Lawyers for Human Rights and a founding trustee of the Legal Resource Centre and served as chairman for Freedom Under Law where Bizos also served.

"George was, apart from his tremendous influence as an advocate in the years of oppression, when he acted for many of the oppressed and the targeted victims of the system, George was a very, very competent advocate in his own right in every respect," he said.

"I can say without any hesitation that George was a great, great South African."

Human rights crusader, advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, hailed Bizos' skills in the courtroom in the matters where he defended struggle stalwarts.

Ntsebeza said: "His forensic skills on the versions by those who applied for amnesty was such, that some of them were denied amnesty just because they had been exposed by George for not having been speaking the truth, the whole truth and neither of which would have amounted to a full disclosure which was necessary for any perpetrator to be granted amnesty."

He said that Bizos had represented a family of a mineworker killed at Marikana.

"That is the time that I got to appreciate that, even though he was a little bit elderly, that spark was still there. One could still see the George Bizos who had become legendary, before the Marikana saga," said Ntsebeza.

"He was a gallant fighter at a time when there were very few lawyers, even white lawyers, who were prepared to represent what they considered either communists, terrorists or both."

Lawson Naidoo, a lawyer and director of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said Bizos' passing was a loss for the country and legal fraternity as a whole.

"He has played an immense role for over 50 years as well as [being one of] the foremost legal minds in South Africa, one of the foremost defendants of human rights in our country," he said.

"He appeared in many of the key political trials during the apartheid era and continued his work in the post-1994 era to strengthen respect for human rights, deepen democracy and create the society that he and many others fought for."

Anti-apartheid activist Maurice Smithers said he first met Bizos in 1982 when he had to give evidence during an inquest for Neil Aggett that Bizos was conducting.

He said Bizos was committed to finding the truth and conducted his work with intellect, compassion and intensity.

"It's quite extraordinary to think that George came to South Africa as a refugee and then became this extraordinary figure who fought for so many people, liberation, for a free country, for so much; having made South Africa his complete home," he said.

"He was never an arrogant person, he was always very warm and generous… He is a great symbol for many people and a role model for how to live one's life."

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