Madiba and Bizos had an uncompromising zest for justice – Graca Machel

Former president Nelson Mandela's widow Graça Machel has penned a heartfelt message, paying tribute to human rights lawyer George Bizos, saying he was "the last of Madiba's closest friends to depart".

Bizos died at the age of 92 at his home on Wednesday.

He represented several struggle stalwarts during the Rivonia Trial, including Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu.

Bizos often spoke very fondly of his memories with Mandela, even during his last years.

In November 2019, during his 92nd birthday celebration at SAHETI School in Bedfordview, Johannesburg – where he was the founding member and life vice-president – he spoke about how he had first met his life-long friend, Mandela.

Paying tribute to Bizos on Thursday, Machel said: "Madiba and George [were] more than special friends, they were two souls with [an] uncompromising zest for justice. In different trenches, but complementing each other in a remarkable journey of six decades, of loyal friendship and brotherhood, walking hand in hand."

She said the sense of "extreme loss and emptiness" had once again visited her, and that its ferocity was indescribable.

Machel described Bizos as her towering older brother, friend and a barometer who had guided her during her darkest times.

"To his children, grandchildren and closest family, my sincere solidarity and condolences. Our family relationship doesn't end here. George, I know you are in the best of company with Rita and Madiba. Hamba Kahle!"

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