Reading George Bizos: Remembering the Human Rights icon through his books

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Nelson and Winnie Mandela with their lawyer, George Bizos, as they enter court for her trial. (Photo by © Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)
Nelson and Winnie Mandela with their lawyer, George Bizos, as they enter court for her trial. (Photo by © Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Human rights lawyer George Bizos died of natural causes on 9 September 2020 at the age of 92. 

Coming into prominence as human rights lawyer during apartheid, Bizos was part of the African National Congress’ defence team. In addition to working with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Oliver Tambo, during the Rivonia trial where he represented the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki. 

During the Truth and Reconciliation Commision Bizos represented Steve Biko and Chris Hani’s families. 

As the senior counsel at the Legal Resources Centre as well as the Constitution Litigation Unit he worked with some of the family members of the miners who were massacred in Marikana during August 2020. 

In celebrating Bizos’ legacy, Arts24 takes a look at his three books. 

65 years of friendship by George Bizos (Photo: Sup
65 years of friendship by George Bizos (Photo: Supplied)

65 Years of Friendship 

Here the Human-rights lawyer recalls his friendship with Nelson Mandela. The two met in 1948 while being students at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Following their university years the two later became legal colleagues shortly before Mandela became Bizos’ client during the Treason Trial followed by the Rivonia Trial. When Mandel was dealt life imprisonment under the judgement of plotting to overthrow the apartheid government, Bizos stood by his friend’s side: working toward democracy through tasks such as secretly meeting Oliver Tambo in exile or arguing for the abolishment of the death penalty.

In this retelling, Bizos tells the story of two friends whose work affected the livelihood of all South Africans. 

No One To Blame by George Bizos (Photo: Supplied)
No One To Blame by George Bizos (Photo: Supplied)

No One to Blame? In Pursuit of Justice in South Africa 

This book tracks the deaths of activists like Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol, Neil Aggett and Matthew Goniwe who were either arrested and died in detention or abducted and killed. 

With the deaths concluding in courts saying there was no one to blame, Bizos takes a look at the lies that protected security forces and state functionaries. In following the stories of high profile deaths in detention, Bizos examines the erosion and failure of South Africa’s justice system.    

Odyssey to Freedom by George Bizos. (Photo: Suppli
Odyssey to Freedom by George Bizos. (Photo: Supplied)

Odyssey to Freedom 

Starting with his childhood in Greece, Odyssey to Freedom goes as far back as Bizos arriving in South Africa unable to speak English before introducing the reader into him studying and becoming a leading advocate against South Africa’s hostile justice system. 

In 600 pages, Bizos expands the public’s understanding of South Africa’s contemporary history by meditating on his experiences as the lawyer who defended freedom fighters by taking the reader into the courtrooms where their fates were decided. In addition to the above mentioned prominent activists, his anecdotes go on to include the Cradock Four, Morgan Tsvangirai and Chris Hani. 

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