George Bizos, an anti-apartheid icon and renowned human rights lawyer who helped defend Nelson Mandela on treason charges for which he escaped the death penalty, has died aged 92.
Bizos, known as one of the icons of South Africa’s fight for democracy, died of old age at his home in Johannesburg, his family said in a joint statement with the Legal Resource Centre (LRC), where he was a member.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced rights lawyer’s passing on Wednesday during a media conference. “I have just received news that legal eagle of our country George Bizos has passed away,” Ramaphosa said. “This is very sad for our country.”
Bizos, a human rights champion for all his life, was one of the lawyers who represented Mandela at his treason trial, which began in 1956.
He also represented Mandela during the Rivonia Trial, when he and other anti-apartheid activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government.
“The friendship between him (Bizos) and Mandela spanned more than seven decades and was legendary,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a nonprofit organisation, said in a statement.
Bizos arrived in South Africa as a 13-year-old WWII refugee from Greece and became one of its most respected lawyers.
He fell out of education for an extended period of time and worked instead in a Greek shop, after arriving in Johannesburg with no English.
He later trained as a lawyer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand university, before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar.
After the end of white minority rule, Mr Bizos helped to write South Africa’s new constitution. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists who had been killed during apartheid at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.