Anti-apartheid campaigner and Nelson Mandela’s personal lawyer, George Bizos, has died at 92, his family said Wednesday.
He died peacefully at his home of natural causes, the family said.
Bizos, who came to South Africa as a 13-year-old fleeing the Nazi occupation of Greece, played a key role in the legal fight to end apartheid, the racist system used to oppress South Africa’s Black majority for decades.
“This is a very sad moment for our country,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said. “He contributed immensely, immensely, to the attainment of our democracy” and was one of the architects of the post-apartheid constitution. “We dip our heads in honor.”
The soft-spoken but determined Bizos represented Mandela from his treason trial in 1964 until the former South African president’s death in 2013.
Bizos is credited with getting Mandela to add the words “if needs be” to his speech from the dock in which he said he was prepared to die for his ideals.
The addition was seen as an escape clause, avoiding any impression that Mandela was goading the court to impose the death penalty.
“Another giant of South African history and of global struggles for justice has fallen,” the Nelson Mandela Foundation said.
It described the friendship between Bizos and Mandela as legendary, and it recalled Mandela’s praise: “I don’t think words can sufficiently express our indebtedness to men and women like George Bizos.”
The two met as law students. During Mandela’s years in prison, Bizos helped to look after his family, and he played a key role in negotiations for Mandela’s release in 1990.
“In the last years of Mandela’s life, they were often to be found together, just catching up, sharing memories,” the foundation said.
Bizos represented a wide range of people who defied apartheid, including the families of slain activists such as Steve Biko, and helped write the laws for the newly democratic country after apartheid ended with Mandela’s presidency in 1994.
Bizos remained active in human rights work in South Africa well into his 80s with the Legal Resources Center. In 2014 he questioned witnesses during an inquiry into the shooting deaths of several dozen protesters by police during a strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in 2012.
Bizos considered himself Greek and South African to the core. During the struggle against apartheid, he said he drew on his schooling in Greece about democracy and freedom.
Bizos is survived by his three sons and seven grandchildren.