President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to the resolute lion of the courtroom George Bizos on hearing of his passing.

Bizos died among his family at the house he built in 1959 Parktown North, in Johannesburg. It was a small home with a famous vegetable garden built by the man himself. In latter years many of Bizos’s friends told him he should move to a bigger house, but he would have none of it. Bizos was one of that generation of selfless fighters for freedom in South Africa who cared nothing for the trappings of wealth and power.

OSAKA, JAPAN – JUNE 28: (RUSSIA OUT) South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speeches during a bilateral meeting at the G20 Osaka Summit 2019, June 28, 2019 in Osaka, Japan. Vladimir Putin has arrived to Japan to participate the G20 Osaka Summit and to meet U.S.President Donald Trump. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

“Ït is sad news for us as South Africans , George Bizos is one of those lawyers who contributed immensely to the attainment of our democracy. He worked very closely with Nelson Mandela, Arthur Chaskalson and many others and as the government we extend our condolences to his family and we extend condolences to all of us South Africans because George Bizos’s name was a well know name and he had an incisive legal mind and also was one of the architects of our constitution and contributed immensely. He will surely be missed and we dip our heads in honour that the contribution that George Bizos had made to our democracy. We shall ever remember his contribution,” says President Ramaphosa on hearing the news.

Rivonia lawyers reunited Joel Jeffe George Bizos and Denis Kuny

Bizos came to South Africa, along with his father, as a 13-year-old refugee during World War Two. The pair slipped out of their native Greece, then occupied by the Germans, on a fishing boat and made the long sea journey to South Africa.

Decades later Bizos recalled sitting on the beach on a holiday home to Greece. He said the Greek man looked at him and his moustache and commented to his wife in his mother tongue, assuming that Bizos could not understand: “Ï want to move away from that man he reminds me of the German officer who tortured me.”

Bizos smiled at the memory but always used it as a grim reminder of the absurdity of human prejudice. This was something that he fought in the courts every step of the way from the day he joined the Johannesburg bar to almost his last breath. He represented Nelson Mandela – whom he befriended during their legal studies – at the Rivonia sabotage trial and the treason trial. More than 50 years later he represented the relatives of the victims of the Marikana massacre.