Sello Hatang | 'Just call me George'

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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)

Sello Hatang writes on his personal interactions with George Bizos including on deciding on how Hatang should address Bizos.


I have had the honour of interacting with, working with, and just being in close proximity to the great legal mind, George Bizos.

It was during one of these interactions that he must have picked up my awkwardness about how best to refer to him.

I was moving between: our dear Advocate; Ntatemogolo - which means granddad; and Ntate - which means father. Never once did I venture calling him by his first name or call him Comrade, something that was very normal to hear from my colleagues.

To save me from this predicament, Bizos thought he should address it. "Sello," he said, "I know there's all kinds of cultural considerations on how to address me. Just call me George."

How can you even suggest that, I thought to myself. My mother will kill me if she heard that this was even a discussion. How dare I refer to an older person on a first name basis. There's no way in this and the next lifetime that that's gonna happen. Not a chance!

I politely turned down Bizo's offer and instead added "uncle" to my list of prefixes.

This uncle thingie felt a little out too but it was most commonly used. In most instances, I never got to address him by his name at all, knowing his stubbornness and how he would have addressed it again and again.

To my Ntatemogolo, I say rest in peace knowing how much I loved and adored you! You taught me many lessons - highest among these is commitment to a course and dedication to the needs of others. You were never the one shy to share their thoughts. We will miss you most at our events.

The raised finger

Speaking of which, let me tell you about Ntatemogolo's raised finger indicating his readiness to speak.

So, I will be programme directing when I spot, out of the corner of my eye, Ntatemogolo's hand slowly go up, usually to quickly add to or correct something that one of the speakers would have said.

I will try ignore the hand for as long as I can because once the mic was in his hands, you couldn't take it away from him, a trait he shared with Ntate Mangosuthu Buthelezi even though he hardly exercised this right.

Bizos always had great stories to tell, very rarely repeated. Seeing that he wouldn't get a chance to say his piece, he would then whisper in my ear that he needed two minutes.

"Only two minutes" he would say.

20 minutes later, he would still be speaking. Who am I to stop him when the audience is eating out of the palm of his hand!?

Bizos was highly considerate. Not one to want to inconvenience you. We would pick him up from home for events, then he would indicate that we need not worry about the drop off as he already had a lift. I learned from his family recently that he would then just ask a stranger at the event to drop him off. Only he could do that.

'I let Nelson down'

One anecdote that demonstrates his greatness, humility and consideration was when he called me to his office at the Legal Resources Centre one afternoon.

He came to get me at the entrance and we walked slowly along the passage to his office. This could have been a couple of years after Madiba had passed.

Bizos said:

"Sello, I feel like I let Nelson down. There are some things which I think I should have done for him."

I tried to reassure him that Madiba had been grateful for all that he did for him over the years.

In fact, as Madiba said about Bizos:

"He looked after my family, after my children, advised my children and he made me feel that although I'm in prison, my affairs are being looked after by a man I know and I trust."

He still indicated that he needed to find closure and deal with those matters for Madiba. I hope I succeeded somewhat in getting him to realise that he had done enough.

It is now upon us to continue running in order to grow such great legacies - ones which are free of corruption, xenophobia, gender based violence, crime and all other social ills.

Too many stories we could share, too few words in these sad times.

We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Yet another major loss to our country.

Robala ka kagiso Ntatemogolo George Bizos.

You gave us many lessons.

It's for us to live up to your example.

- Sello Hatang is the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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