President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a Special Official Funeral Category 1 to honour the late human rights lawyer and social activist Advocate George Bizos. 

Tributes have been pouring for human rights lawyer George Bizos. He died at his home on Wednesday. The renowned lawyer represented many struggle heroes including the Rivonia Trialists.

The Rivonia Trial led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and nine others, including Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, and Ahmed Kathrada.

Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first democratic President. The Nelson Mandela Foundation said that Bizos’s death is a hard blow.

“We got to know him first as a close friend of Nelson Mandela and over more than 20 years came to regard him as a friend and trusted adviser to the organisation. Another giant of South African history and of global struggles for justice has fallen,” said the organisation in a statement.

According to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Bizos was an outstanding human rights lawyer.

“We reiterate Kathrada’s remarks about Adv Bizos: He stands in that long tradition of great human beings who although not born in this country did so much to contribute to its well-being.”


Upon hearing the news of the death, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Bizos will be sorely missed.

“He was also one of the architects of our constitution and contributed immensely and he will sorely be missed and we dip our head in honour of the contribution that George Bizos has made to our democracy. We will forever remember his contribution.”

President Ramaphosa said Bizos’ passing is a sad moment for the country: 

The legal fraternity

The legal fraternity also added its voice in remembering Bizos’ contribution.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) said Bizos contributed immensely to the work of the organisation. Bizos joined the LRC in 1991.

His work at the centre includes leading the team for government in passing the Constitution in 1996.

“Representing families of apartheid atrocities at the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission), leading the LRC team at the Marikana Commission, seeking justice for the Timol and other families,” said the centre in a statement.

Bizos, who had been an advocate since 1954, also served in the Judicial Services Commission from 1994 to 2009.  He also worked as a board member for non-governmental organisation Freedom Under Law (FUL). The organisation serves to promote democracy under the law and help people to understand and respect the rule of law.

FUL said Bizos was majestic.

The South African Judiciary described Bizos as an avid defender of human rights.

“His remarkable legacy will live on.”

Professor Thuli Madonsela who served as Public Protector from 2009 to 2016 said Bizos was an integrity crusader.

Public interest law centre Section 27 said Bizos was a tireless fighter for human rights.

“(A) mentor, a champion for social justice, and man of integrity. Section 27 sends our condolences to the Bizos family.”

Education sector

George Bizos also had a passion for education. He was one of the founders of the SAHETI School which was established in 1974. The school was opened for all communities at a time when the apartheid government segregated people according to their race and ethnic groups.

Bizos continued to advocate for access to education for all, working together with organisations such as Equal Education – a movement striving for quality and equal education in South Africa.

In 2010, Bizos wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma supporting Equal Education’s call for the government to build and resource libraries at schools.

“Both local and international research indicated that one way of improving literacy and the overall academic performance of learners is for every public school to have a well-stocked and adequately staffed library. At present only 8% of schools in South Africa have functioning libraries,” he said.

His contribution to the education sector received some recognition.

In 1999, the University of Witswatersrand bestowed Bizos its highest honour, a Doctorate of Laws honoris causa. Wits said Bizos is one of its greatest alumni. Outgoing Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib said Bizos was an incredible human being.

“This is one of the figures in South African history who was there at every major event over the last 50, 60 years. He was an incredible fighter for human rights.”

Professor Habib said Bizos death was tragic: 

University of Cape Town’s Southern African Legal Information Institute which publishes legal information for free public use also sent its condolences to the veteran.


Political sphere

The political party whose leaders were represented by Bizos, the African National Congress said Bizos dedicated his life to the freedom of others. “We are indeed robbed as a nation without this great legal mind like George Bizos. Even in his when he was an author, in his own books he spoke about the liberation of the African majority,” said the party’s spokesperson Pule Mabe. He sent his condolences to the family:

The Economic Freedom Fighters said Bizos left an indelible footprint in the fight for human rights in South Africa.

“Bizos represented a dying breed of leaders of integrity and selflessness. His spent his entire life defending human rights and using his legal expertise to fight injustice,” said the party in a statement.

The Democratic Alliance described Bizos as a fearless leader, a humanitarian, and a brilliant legal mind.

“He fearlessly took on the apartheid regime when it would have been easier for him to remain silent. He never feared to speak truth to power and was willing to sacrifice it all for South Africa and her people. Mr. Bizos spent his life in service of his country and advocating for the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society. A giant has fallen.”

Bizos is survived by his three sons and seven grandchildren.

Main types of state funded funerals in South Africa

Main types of state funded funerals in South Africa by SABC Digital News