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Nelson Mandela University mourns the passing of Adv George Bizos SC.

Adv Bizos delivering a speech during the launch of the newly-named Nelson Mandela University in July 2017

Born in Greece in 1927, Adv Bizos was inspired by his father’s courage in assisting allied soldiers escape from German occupied Greece during World War II.  He arrived in South Africa at the age of thirteen and obtained a law degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he met Nelson Mandela, establishing a life-long and famous friendship.

The way he delpoyed his legal expertise has become legendary. A founding member of the National Council of Lawyers for Human Rights, he also served as Senior Counsel at the Legal Resources Centre in Johannesburg for many years.  Bizos specialised in using the law and the platform afforded by a trial court, to advance his clients’ interests. He shared his his chambers with black advocates such as Ismail Mahomed and Duma Nokwe when they were prohibited from taking chambers of their own.

Adv Bizos frequently represented political activists during the struggle against apartheid and made it his mission to advance their human rights in the face of the hostile justice system of the time.  His contribution to defending the accused in the Treason Trial, the Rivonia Trial and the Delmas Treason Trial is well-known, as is his contribution to representing the families of black consciousness leaders at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, opposing amnesty applications by apartheid operatives.

More recently, he appeared for some of the mineworkers’ families at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and has contributed significantly to the courtroom being a space of resistance when necessary over more than four decades.

Throughout his life and distinguished career, Adv Bizos was a self-proclaimed eternal optimist, a lover of liberty and democracy, and inspired by Aristotle, a determined fighter against injustice and inequality. His special relationship with former President Nelson Mandela captured the imagination and he has been credited with adding the crucial phrase “if it needs be” to Madiba’s famous “I am prepared to die” speech from the dock during the Rivonia Trial, challenging Mandela to fight to live to see the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.  He was more than a top-drawer lawyer, he was Madiba’s confidante and one of three people (along with Justices Dikgang Moseneke and Themba Sangoni) trusted to serve as executors of Mandela’s deceased estate.

In recognition of his commitment and dedication to democracy, human rights and justice in 2004, Adv Bizos was awarded the degree of Doctor of Law (honoris causa) by one of Nelson Mandela University’s predecessor institutions, the University of Port Elizabeth.  

Speaking on the University being named after Nelson Mandela in 2017, he encouraged society to follow Madiba’s lead and build a nation of which he would be proud.  One of the University values is social justice and Adv Bizos, stood like a tall tree serving as a beacon of hope and action for human rights and equality for all.  

We would do well to heed this advice and follow the example of people such as Adv Bizos, in committing and contributing to the realisation of South Africa’s constitutional commitments – to build a nation based on the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, through constitutionalism and the rule of law.

We are saddened by the loss of Advocate Bizos.  His memory and legacy will remain iconic throughout our higher education communities, the legal fraternity, our country and the world.  As we pay tribute to him, we also send sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues and compatriots.  May His soul rest in perfect peace.

Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill
Nelson Mandela University, Chairperson of Council

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777