Bizos, at 80, counts his blessings

As a boy, George Bizos fled Nazi Europe for South Africa, where he became a lawyer and defended Nelson Mandela and an honour roll of anti-apartheid leaders.

Few South Africa attorneys are considered to have done more to challenge the apartheid government than Bizos, who exposed state abuses, tortures and killings at a time when that risked arrest or even death. He evaded those fates, but was harassed and denied citizenship for 31 years.

Today, the portly, gray-haired Bizos can sometimes be found gardening in a Panama hat on the grounds of a Johannesburg Greek school he helped found.

But retirement for Bizos, who helped shape South Africa’s new Constitution after apartheid ended, has been anything but sedate.

He spent his 80th birthday working for a cause close to his heart with guests including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu and former president Thabo Mbeki, along with the families of slain activists such as Steve Biko and Chris Hani.

Organisers of the Greek-born lawyer’s gala birthday fundraising dinner said on Thursday it raised R250 000 for the Greek school.

“I consider myself a particularly fortunate man that I managed somehow to cross the path of great men,” Bizos said at Wednesday’s celebration, where he paid tribute to the ordinary South Africans who strove for equality. “I want to thank South Africa for the opportunity to fulfil myself not only as a professional but as a human being.”

Bizos left Greece by boat in 1941 with his father, who had helped seven New Zealand soldiers escape German-occupied territory.

After settling in Johannesburg, Bizos went on to study law at the University of the Witwatersrand. As a young lawyer, he defied segregation laws and shared chambers with Duma Nokwe, South Africa’s first black lawyer. Their office became a meeting place for Mandela and other leaders of the ANC.

Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said that at an early age, Bizos showed the passion and commitment to human rights that would make him such a formidable foe in court.

“You do not need us to remind you of your enormous contribution to the struggle against apartheid and in the building of democracy in our country,” Mandela said in a birthday message. “Nor of the unstinting support you have given to me and my family.” - Sapa-AP



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