Retired Constitutional Court Justice Johan Kriegler told News24 that the country had lost a “giant and larger than life” advocate. “Nobody who ever knew George Bizos wasn’t profoundly moved in some way or another by this larger than life guy. I knew him for close to 70 years George was, apart from his tremendous influence as an advocate in the years of oppression when he acted for many of the oppressed and the targeted victims of the system, a very, very competent advocate in his own right in every respect. I knew him as a colleague in Freedom Under Law, where we fought abuses against the administration of justice in the current regime. I can say without any hesitation, George was a great, great South African. I think it actually starts back in Greece, the community from which he came, which was already in those days a rebellious, against the government. When George came to South Africa, he was virtually as an orphan because his father ran into difficulties pretty soon, George proved himself capable of adapting. He had it very tough. He managed notwithstanding all the disadvantages be it social, economic, language and in every respect culturally, and he made his mark already. Those who were at Wits University in the early 1950s remember very well this rather portly, dark haired fellow speaking with a foreign accent picking up at any student protest saying ‘Mr Charman, fellow students!’ From those days George carried on at the Johannesburg Bar, at the Legal Resource Centre, at Freedom Under Law, he played a tremendous role in the development of human rights and Constitutionalism in South Africa. He represented the government at the time of the certification of the Constitution, he led the team, and his contribution was enormous.“
Former presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj, who along with four others was represented by Bizos in the Little Rivonia Trial of 1964, said: George was not just a lawyer, he was not just an activist for human rights. I believe that George was combatant for freedom and he shaped the role of lawyers in the face of an unjust system to be combatant, to undermine and overthrow that system.When it came to the time of transition and negotiations, George served as an advisor to the ANC teams and he remained throughout his life, firmly on the side of justice and equality for all. He was proud of his heritage as a Greek. He never failed to draw from the experience and the wisdom of Greek freedom fighters, but he was above all a South African due to the cause of human justice and equality.To George’s family, be strong, take pride – join us in celebrating a life of service to the South African people. A life of service to the cause of human freedom and justice.
The Ahmed Kathrada foundation tweeted it was “saddened by the news that veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos has passed away.
The Saheti School, where Bizos was the founding chairperson, said it was a “privileged school to have beneffitted from the life of a man who gave his time and energy to shaping the school. “As a community we have walked alongside a man who has become an icon of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Howard Varney, a South African barrister practicing at the Johannesburg Bar, said: “I was privileged to have worked with George at the Legal Resources Centre and we collaborated again at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Even well into his 80s the fire in his belly was undiminished. He loved nothing more than to hold corrupt and brutal officials to account. George lived long enough to see some justice done in the Ahmed Timol case in 2017. Indeed, George attended court every day for 6 weeks offering advice and counsel to me and my team. I so much wanted George to finally witness justice in the Neil Aggett case, which commenced earlier this year with the reopening of the inquest. Sadly, the pandemic intervened and that case had to be postponed. I visited George in his home earlier this year, with Stephen Aggett (Neil’s nephew), and promised him that we would not rest until justice was done in the Aggett case, the Cradock Four, Pebco 3 and COSAS 4 murders and many other cases. We will carry on this fight in his name. Hamba Kahle George.
Advocate Geoff Budlender SC said: George represented the famous and the humble alike. His clients weren’t only the Nelson Mandelas, his clients were the humblest of people. Some of the work he was proudest of and most liked speaking of, was his work in the 1950s in the Northern Transvaal, representing women who were resisting and fighting the passbook laws. That to him was as important as the famous show trials. He believed that human rights were for everybody, and he cared about people. If there’s an epitaph that’s appropriate, it’s that he was a man who cared about justice and who cared about people, those were his passion. He was a man of great generosity and warmth, and he was liked by many. I think the most important thing that he wanted us to understand is that human rights matter, and people matter – and that they should be at the centre of our professional work.
Journalist Justice Malala described Bizos as “a human being [who was] the way God wanted us to be: large of heart, open of mind, great in spirit. Humane, freedom fighter, lover of people.
What a week: Achmat Dangor, George Bizos. Our great ones are leaving it up to us. We were blessed to have them.
Death be not proud.”