George Bizos 2004


Adv George Bizos was born in Greece in 1928. In 1941 he left Greece, then under Nazi occupation, in a small boat with his father and seven New Zealand soldiers, and escaped to Crete. He arrived in South Africa later that year knowing hardly a word of English. He worked in a shop for two and a half years until a young teacher sent him to school and helped him with his homework each afternoon.

Adv Bizos completed his BA LLB at Wits where he served four terms on the SRC together with other prominent students like the late Chief Justice I Mohamed and the late Constitutional Court Judge J Didcott. After graduating in 1954 he started practising at the Bar (and now is a senior member of the Johannesburg Bar), receiving a lot of work from the firm Mandela and Tambo. Adv Bizos shared chambers (illegally in terms of the Group Areas Act and the Urban Areas Act) with Duma Nokwe, the first Black advocate in South Africa and one of the great minds of the ANC in the 1950s and 1960s.

Adv Bizos was counsel for Trevor Huddleston of Sophiatown in the 1950s. He has also been counsel to former President Nelson Mandela since the mid-1950s, including being part of the team that defended Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others in the dramatic Rivonia Trial of 1963-1964. Adv Bizos acted as counsel to UDF leaders such as Patrick Lekota and Popo Molefe in the Delmas treason trial in 1985-1989. Adv Bizos also acted as counsel for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in her numerous trials from the late 1950s to 1992. As a human rights activist he also defended Albertina Sisulu, Barbara Hogan and many other women, especially those who defied the legislation about carrying passes.

Adv Bizos is one of the founder members of Lawyers for Human Rights and a member of the council of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies. Adv Bizos was a judge of Botswana's Court of Appeal from 1985 to 1993.

Adv Bizos served as advisor to the negotiating teams at CODESA as well as in drafting the 1993 Constitution, including its Bill of Rights. Adv Bizos was appointed by President Mandela to the Judicial Service Commission to recommend candidates for judicial office as well as reforms to the judicial system to erase its apartheid past. He was again appointed to the Commission by President Mbeki. In 1995 Adv Bizos led the team representing the South African Government that argued before the Constitutional Court that the death penalty was unconstitutional. In 1996 Adv Bizos also led the team that argued on behalf of the Constitutional Assembly in favour of the certification of the present Constitution.

Adv Bizos is one of a distinguished group of human rights lawyers who in the dark days of apartheid sought to uncover the State's role in eliminating its opponents. As counsel for the families of many deceased opponents, such as Steve Biko and Matthew Goniwe, he was centrally involved in many of the inquests following those high­profile deaths. Adv Bizos later led the team that opposed applications for amnesty on behalf of the Biko, Hani, Goniwe, Calata, Mkonto, Mhlauli, Slovo and Schoon families. 1n 1998 Adv Bizos authored a book entitled: No One to Blame? In pursuit of justice in South Africa, in which he provided an intimate account of major trials in which he had been involved, exploring the implications of torture, deaths in detention, murders by death squads and the failure to find anyone culpable.

Adv Bizos is currently defending the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, accused of plotting to assassinate the President of Zimbabwe.

Adv Bizos has received a number of awards for the promotion of human rights in South Africa during the years of apartheid. He is a Commander of the Order of the Phoenix in Greece and has been an honorary member of the Athens Bar since 1994. He is also a member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, which awarded him the International Trial Lawyer Prize of the Year in 2001 for his contribution to human rights. Adv Bizos was awarded an Order for Meritorious Service Class II medal by President Mandela in 1999.

Adv Bizos married Arethe Daflos in 1954, and the couple have three sons, three granddaughters and one grandson. He is also a keen vegetable gardener.

Chief Justice A Chaskalson has declared unequivocally that no South African lawyer did more to challenge the abuse of power by the security forces under apartheid. It is very moving that Adv Bizos is still with undiminished vigour championing the cause of justice and democracy in the Southern African subcontinent. It is a great honour indeed for the University of Port Elizabeth to recognise such commitment and dedication to democracy, human rights and justice by conferring the degree of Doctor Legum on George Bizos.