Quiet hero leaves lasting legacy

From an early age, George Bizos was a hero. At the age of just 13, in 1941, he and his father risked their lives by helping New Zealand soldiers escape from German-occupied Greece to the island of Crete as war raged all around. When he later came to South Africa as a refugee – and then became a lawyer – he came face to face with apartheid, a slightly different shade of Nazism … and again made a stand. He was part of the team defending Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu in the Rivonia Treason Trial. However, he...
From an early age, George Bizos was a hero. At the age of just 13, in 1941, he and his father risked their lives by helping New Zealand soldiers escape from German-occupied Greece to the island of Crete as war raged all around.

When he later came to South Africa as a refugee – and then became a lawyer – he came face to face with apartheid, a slightly different shade of Nazism … and again made a stand. He was part of the team defending Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu in the Rivonia Treason Trial.

However, he defended countless other activists – including Namibia struggle hero Herman Toivo ya Toivo and Robert Mugabe's political foe, Morgan Tsvangirai. His deep friendship and bond with Nelson Mandela continued through both their lives, as they together helped cement our fledgling democracy.

Like Mandela, Bizos was a gregarious man with a charismatic personality, not afraid to speak his mind but always knowing that he did not have to shout to do so. Again, like Madiba, Bizos was a staunch believer in education (his long involvement with the Saheti School in Johannesburg is a clear demonstration of this). But he also did not recognise the artificial constructs of age, willing to encourage and mentor young people for the future.

His death this week, at the age of 92, has deprived South Africa not only of a fine mind – legal and otherwise – but also of one of life's true gentlemen.

The real loss, though, will be of one of the "originals" – those who put doing the right thing above everything else; those who believed they had a mission to help improve the lives of the downtrodden and to defend those who could not defend themselves. Like Mandela, he will leave an enormous hole in the fabric of our national life.

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