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17.09.2020 South Africa

S.Africa bids farewell to George Bizos, Mandela's lawyer

By AFP
Farewell: Pallbearers bring the coffin into the Hellenic Cultural Centre in Johannesburg.  By KIM LUDBROOK (POOL/AFP)
LISTEN SEP 17, 2020
Farewell: Pallbearers bring the coffin into the Hellenic Cultural Centre in Johannesburg. By KIM LUDBROOK (POOL/AFP)

South Africa on Thursday bade farewell to George Bizos, the lawyer who represented Nelson Mandela at his trial for treason, at a state funeral filled with emotional tributes.

Bizos, a revered, soft-spoken figure, died at his Johannesburg home last week of natural causes at the age of 92.

His flag-draped coffin was wheeled into a Greek community hall by military pall-bearers, with President Cyril Ramaphosa in attendance.

Speakers paid heartfelt tributes to the man who became Mandela's personal friend and defended human rights to the end of his life.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor described the funeral as a solemn moment but also the occasion to rejoice in the life of a great man.

"This life is to be celebrated," Pandor said.

At the height of the apartheid era, Bizos secured a life term for Mandela and others fighting white-minority rule at the landmark Rivonia Trial in 1964.

Against all expectations, the defendants were spared the death penalty but given long jail terms -- a verdict that turned them into the living embodiment of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Bizos, pictured here in 2018 at an inaugural award for human rights established in his name, was revered for a gentle demeanor and steely determination.  By GULSHAN KHAN (AFP/File) Bizos, pictured here in 2018 at an inaugural award for human rights established in his name, was revered for a gentle demeanor and steely determination. By GULSHAN KHAN (AFP/File)

Bizos arrived in South Africa as a 13-year-old war refugee from Greece and trained as a lawyer.

In a long career, he represented a string of activists against the white-minority regime and later helped draw up the constitution of post-apartheid South Africa.

He continued working till he was past 90, with one of his last major cases securing government payouts in 2014 for the families of 34 miners gunned down two years earlier.

His passing further reduces the number of surviving leaders of the apartheid struggle, whose status wields huge moral and political influence in modern-day South Africa.

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