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BOOK EXCERPT | 65 Years of Friendship — A memoir of my friendship with Nelson Mandela

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Mandela's longtime lawyer, Advocate George Bizos at a Memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory. (Photo by Louise Gubb/Corbis via Getty Images)
Mandela's longtime lawyer, Advocate George Bizos at a Memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory. (Photo by Louise Gubb/Corbis via Getty Images)

During an adjournment in the preparatory examination in 1957, Nelson, then thirty-nine years old and a separated father of three children (his second son Makgatho was born in 1950, his daughter Makaziwe in 1954) had met twenty-two-year-old Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie). He was captivated from the time he first saw her and said that he knew immediately that he wanted her for his wife. They were married in June 1958 in a large traditional ceremony in the Eastern Cape, which Nelson had to obtain special permission to attend and at which he could not speak in terms of his banning order.

His sister Constance delivered the bridegroom’s speech on his behalf. Sadly, I was unable to attend because of distance, my work and the fact that I was waiting for the imminent birth of my second son. At the time of the marriage, both Nelson and his firm were in financial difficulties. Nelson had no savings and Oliver confided his concern to me that Nelson had spent much more money than the partnership could afford on the wedding. In turn, Winnie’s father had told her that Nelson was married to the struggle and that marriage to him would be ‘no bed of roses’. Nevertheless, the couple was very happy. Nelson sung the praises of his beautiful wife and looked forward to a new and happy life. I had not yet met Winnie when, soon after the wedding, I received a call from Nelson. His voice was upbeat, even proud, as he proclaimed, ‘George, I have married trouble.’

He needed my help. His new wife had been arrested and charged for assaulting a police officer and he wanted me to defend her. The following evening, Winnie arrived at my chambers. Elegantly dressed, she was as striking as she appeared in the wedding photographs that I had seen. She was too shy to address me by my first name – and has never done so in the many years since. I was instead always ‘Uncle George’. Winnie recounted how she was woken early one morning by the police arriving to arrest her for her role in a meeting protesting the extension of passes to women. She was alone in the house on Vilakazi Street that she and Nelson now shared and asked the police to wait while she dressed. Without knocking, one of the policemen, a Detective Sergeant Fourie, opened the door to her bedroom and grabbed her aggressively by the wrist, pulling her forward. She resisted and pushed him away.

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