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George Bizos, Anti-Apartheid Lawyer Who Defended Mandela, Dies at 92


After the Nazi occupation, the young Mr. Bizos became embroiled in an undertaking, led by his father, to spirit to safety seven New Zealand soldiers trapped behind the lines. In May 1941, the soldiers and their rescuers slipped out of Greece on a fishing boat and were themselves rescued by a British warship, the H.M.S. Kimberley, which took them to Egypt.

From there, Mr. Bizos sailed to South Africa with his father as refugees at a time when racial oppression seemed unchallenged and pro-Nazi sentiment among some Afrikaners ran high. The train taking them from Durban was forced to divert to a station in Johannesburg to avoid crowds of Nazi sympathizers protesting the arrival of the “filth” of Europe.

His father found work in a munitions factory in Pretoria, the capital, and later worked as a shop assistant there, while his son stayed with Greek friends of the family in Johannesburg. After struggling to learn Afrikaans and English while working as a shop assistant, and after scraping together tuition money, George Bizos enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He completed his law degree in 1950, two years after the National Party came to power and began codifying apartheid. He was admitted to the Johannesburg bar in 1954.

While Mr. Bizos’s two brothers later emigrated to South Africa, he did not see his mother for more than 20 years, until she traveled to South Africa in the 1960s. His parents seemed remote from each other by then, he wrote, with his mother expressing “no wish to see my father” before returning to Greece several years later.

His father died in a freakish manner in 1969. Recovering from a motorcycle accident, and wearing a plaster cast on one leg, he fell in a bathroom at his home after leaving a coffee pot on a stove. The coffee boiled over, extinguishing the flame, and his father “succumbed to the leaking gas,” Mr. Bizos wrote.

Working with two other lawyers — Mr. Mandela and Oliver Tambo, who went on to lead the A.N.C. — Mr. Bizos represented clients in obscure rural places in cases that revealed the minutiae as much as the ubiquity of laws devised to keep the races apart.

In a foreword to Mr. Bizos’s memoir, Mr. Mandela said that he and Mr. Tambo had frequently acted as the instructing attorneys for cases in which Mr. Bizos was the courtroom advocate representing victims of apartheid. Later, Mr. Bizos was the among the lawyers representing Mr. Mandela and others in epochal trials in the 1950s and ’60s that became landmarks in South Africa’s modern history.

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