George Bizos

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George Bizos
George Bizos 1.jpg
Born (1927-11-15) 15 November 1927 (age 91)
Alma materUniversity of the Witwatersrand
OccupationHuman rights lawyer

George Bizos (born 15 November 1927) is a human rights lawyer who campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, most notably during the Rivonia Trial.

Early life[edit]

Bizos was the son of Antonios (known to his family and friends as "Antoni") Bizos, the mayor of the small village of Vasilitsi, south of Koroni and Kalamata on the Messenia peninsula of the Peloponnese, Greece.[1] In May 1941 at the age of thirteen, George Bizos and his father helped seven New Zealand soldiers (Don Gladding, Mick Karup, Peter Martin, John Lewis and three others) who were hiding in the hills to escape Nazi-occupied Greece to Crete. He says the escape did not go well and he was adrift for three days until he managed to attract the attention of crew on the British destroyer, HMS Kimberley, which was on its way to the Battle of Crete. After the battle HMS Kimberley dropped him off at Alexandria, Egypt.[2]

As a refugee he was sent to South Africa and landed in Durban. From there he went by train to Johannesburg. He disembarked at the Braamfontein railway station because it was feared that the Ossewabrandwag would have a demonstration at the central station. The Ossewabrandwag blamed Jan Smuts for bringing the vuilgoed (rubbish) of Europe to South Africa. The local Greek community helped integrate him into society. Bizos did not immediately go to school because he could not speak English or Afrikaans but by 1948—the year that the National Party was voted into power—Bizos had managed to gain entry into the law faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand. It was here that he says he first became politically active.[citation needed]

Legal career[edit]

Bizos joined the Bar in Johannesburg in 1954.[citation needed]

During the 1950s and 1960s he was counsel to a wide range of well-known people including Trevor Huddleston of Sophiatown.[citation needed]

At the Rivonia Trial in 1963 – 64 he was part of the team that defended Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu. The accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, but spared the death penalty. Although it is sometimes said that he claims to have drafted Mandela's famous speech spoken at the trial, he says that his main contribution was to advise the use of the words "if needs be" before Mandela said that he was prepared to die.[3] Bizos believes that this may have contributed to the avoidance of the death penalty by having Mandela not appear to seek martyrdom. This trial heralded the arrival of a group of tough human rights lawyers – Joel Joffe, Harry Schwarz, Arthur Chaskalson and Harold Hanson.[4]

Bizos was counsel at various inquests into the deaths of people in detention.[citation needed]

He has been a senior member of the Johannesburg Bar since 1978. He is a member of the National Council of Lawyers for Human Rights, which he helped found in 1979. He is Senior Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre in Johannesburg in the Constitutional Litigation Unit. He was a judge on Botswana's Court of Appeal from 1985 to 1993.[citation needed]

In 1990 he became a member of the African National Congress' (ANC) Legal and Constitutional Committee, and at Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) he served as advisor to the negotiating teams and participated in drawing up the Interim Constitution. He was involved in the drafting of legislation, and particularly the Truth and Reconciliation Bill and amendments to the Criminal Procedures Act, to bring it into line with Chapter 3 of the constitution, guaranteeing fundamental human rights to all citizens of South Africa.[citation needed]

In the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, he was the leader of the team that opposed applications for amnesty on behalf of the Biko, Hani, Goniwe, Calata, Mkonto, Mhlauli, Slovo and Schoon families.[5] He was appointed by then President Mandela to the Judicial Services Commission which, in terms of the constitution, recommends candidates for appointment as judges and proposes reforms to the judicial system to erase its apartheid past. Bizos was the leader of the team for the South African Government to argue that the death penalty was unconstitutional, and counsel for the National Assembly in the Certification of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court.

In 2005, Bizos was legal advisor to Nelson Mandela in a bitter legal dispute with Mandela's former lawyer, Ismail Ayob.[6][7][8] [9]

Bizos represented the Chinese Association of South Africa in a case that ended in 2008 in which Chinese South Africans were granted 'previously disadvantaged' status, thus qualifying them for Black Economic Empowerment benefits.[10]

Film about Rivonia[edit]

In 2017 Bizos appeared along with surviving defendants at the Rivonia Trial, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada, along with fellow defence lawyers Joel Joffe and Denis Kuny, in a documentary film entitled “Life is Wonderful”, directed by Sir Nicholas Stadlen,[11] which tells the story of the trial. The title reflects Goldberg's words to his mother at the end of the trial on hearing that he and his comrades had been spared the death sentence.[12][13][14][15]

Notable people represented[edit]

Bizos represented the following people, among others:

Other activities[edit]

In the 1970s Bizos helped start a Greek school, called SAHETI. It embraced Hellenism, yet was non-exclusionist, even during the heart of apartheid. It was here that people like Chris Hani's children were educated.[18]

Personal life[edit]

As of March 2019 Bizos is married to Arethe, known as "Rita", and has three sons[19], one doctor, a surgeon, and the other an engineer. He has seven grandchildren.

Honours and awards[edit]


  • No One to Blame?: In Pursuit of Justice in South Africa. New Africa Books. 1998. ISBN 978-0-86486-319-5.
  • Odyssey to Freedom. South Africa: Penguin & Random House. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4152-0307-1.


  1. ^ Isaacs, By Doron (14 November 2017). "How two teachers helped George Bizos become a lawyer". GroundUp News. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  2. ^ "Media Challenge: Who and Where Are the Seven?". International Bar Association. 22 October 2004. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  3. ^ Alcock, Sello S (16 November 2008). "Birthday tea with Bizos". The M&G Online. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Friends, family celebrate Bizos' 90th". Bedfordview Edenvale News. 6 December 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  5. ^ Isaacs, By Doron (14 November 2017). "How two teachers helped George Bizos become a lawyer". GroundUp News. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  6. ^ Mabuza, Ernest (18 July 2005). "Bizos behind vicious campaign to discredit, defame me — Ayob". Business Day. Archived from the original on 21 December 2008.
  7. ^ "Mandela can still look after his own affairs : Bizos". SABCnews. 11 April 2005. Archived from the original on 11 April 2005. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  8. ^ Moya, Fikile-Notsikelelo (5 August 2005). "Poor Ismail Ayob :". Mail & Guardian Online. Archived from the original on 28 April 2006. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  9. ^ Friday Khutbar – – Muslim Forum
  10. ^ "Chinese qualify for BEE". News24. 18 June 2008. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  11. ^ Life is Wonderful Q&A on Vimeo
  12. ^ Life is Wonderful trailer on YouTube
  13. ^ Stadlen, Nick (Nicholas) (22 July 2018). "Unsung heroes: the men who stood trial with Mandela". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  14. ^ Green, Pippa (13 June 2018). "Apartheid history: Overlooked Rivonia triallists feted in Life is Wonderful". Business Day. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  15. ^ "'Life is Wonderful' screening reinforces call for such histories in curriculum". Nelson Mandela University. 15 June 2018. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  16. ^ sahoboss (17 February 2011). "George Bizos". South African History Online. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  17. ^ Cape Times, 2 June 1982.
  18. ^ Vithoulkas, Jeana (7 March 2010), "Hellenic ideals inspired anti apartheid fighter" at the Wayback Machine (archived 14 July 2011)
  19. ^ sahoboss (17 February 2011). "George Bizos". South African History Online. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  20. ^ "IBA announces George Bizos as winner of Bernard Simons Memorial Award" (Press release). The International Bar Association. 22 October 2004. Retrieved 14 October 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]