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Biography of George BIZOS

South Africa > Social : George BIZOS

George BIZOS George BIZOS
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Born on 14/11/1928 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

George Bizos born November 14, 1928, is a respected,renowned and  internationally acclaimed South African  lawyer   and human rights activist  who made his name as a Human Rights lawyer during the apartheid era. He defended Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu in the Rivonia Treason trial. "Rivonia,, the suburb of Johannesburg where 19 ANC leaders were arrested and condemned to death "Originally the death penalty had been requested, but was changed because of world-wide protests and skilled legal maneuvers on the part of the defence team. Harold Hanson (one of the attorney) was called upon to argue in mitigation. He compared the African struggle for rights to the earlier Afrikaans struggle, citing precedents for temperate sentencing, even in cases of treason.

Bizos believed N Mandela escaped from being given a death penalty because of his well-known speech , apartheid regime did not want him to become a martyr.

As the result of the trial Mandela would spent nearly 30 years in prison.

"This is the struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But, if needs be, my Lord, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die"(N. Mandela)


He defended Winnie Mandela in numerous trials from the late 1950’s to 1992, defended Albertina Sisulu, Barbara Hogan and other women particularly those who defied the carrying of passes from the mid 1950’s. He was appointed by President Mandela to South Africa’s Judicial Services Commission to recommend candidates for Judicial office and reform of the Judicial system to erase its apartheid past. He was reappointed by President Mbeki.

"He stands in that long tradition of great human beings who although not born in this
country did so much to contribute to its well-being." (UCT) (about G. Bizos)

 Not only is he synonymous with the struggle against apartheid, he has had to wage his own very personal struggle against prejudice, one that is well known to any immigrant to this country. A personal friend of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, Bizos acted as an advocate for their law firm long before Tambo escaped into exile and Mandela went on trial.

Bizos played a role in all the major trials of the 50-year-long struggle against apartheid; the Treason Trial, the Rivonia Trial; the inquest into the death of activist Ahmed Timol, the Nusas five trial, the inquest into the death of Steve Biko, the inquest into the death of Dr Neil Aggett and the Delmas treason trial.

He successfully defended Winnie Mandela continuously throughout the 1960s, '70s, '80s and even '90s, culminating in the infamous Stompie Seipei murder saga, the young activist savagely bludgeoned to death in her Soweto house.

Throughout all of this, he would meet and befriend countless people; all of whom would become household names in their own right and leaders in their own fields after South Africa finally attained liberation in 1994. Bizos himself was offered a seat in parliament, a judgeship and even a cabinet position, all of which he turned down, accepting only a post on the judicial service commission, the body that oversees the vetting and appointment of aspirant judges.


It's all a very far cry from the little boy growing up in the village of Vasilitsi at the foot of the Mavrovouni, the black mountain on the Mediterranean. Bizos was a young boy when World War 2 began and he lived through the German occupation.

His escape from the Nazis aboard a fishing boat with his father and a handful of New Zealand servicemen is well known, but what is not well known is the battle he faced when he eventually ended up in South Africa, a young teenager barely able to speak English.

He learnt English - and Afrikaans - worked in a cafe and thanks to the efforts of a particularly gifted and kind teacher, was accepted into Athlone Boys' High School, finally matriculating and scraping into Wits, where he studied law.

He was appointed by President Mandela to South Africa’s Judicial Services Commission to recommend candidates for Judicial office and reform of the Judicial system to erase its apartheid past. He was reappointed by President Mbeki. Mr Bizos led the team that defended Morgan Tswangarai in Zimbabwe in 2003/4 on a charge of treason. He led the team for the South African Government to argue that the death penalty was unconstitutional. He opposed applications for amnesty on behalf of the Biko, Hani, Goniwe, Calata, Mkonto and Mhlauli, the Slovo and Schoon families at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He reprented families of killed heroes of our liberation struggle.

He served as Judge on Botswana’s Court of Appeal 1985-1993. He continues to act as Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre, Constitutional Litigation Unit, which he has done since 1991. He has received numerous prestigious South African and international awards for his work in promoting democracy and human rights. He has written two books - No One to Blame and Odyssey to Freedom.

In 1996 In  No One to Blame,  he unpacked the miscarriage of justice in the murders of Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol, Neil Aggett, Simon Mndawe, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlauli as exposed in the TRC.



Last update : 06/01/2010

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