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South Africa’s golden friendship

“He was serious and meant it when he said South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”

Advocate George Bizos has solidified himself as part of South Africa’s history, but nothing stands out more than his friendship with late President Nelson Mandela.

The two met at Wits when the late president was a third-year law student, ahead of Bizos in 1948.

Mandela came to Johannesburg and became friends with Walter Sisulu.

“Sisulu being a black businessman, had a group of three white attorneys and they used Mandela as a clerk,” Bizos told the NEWS in an interview in June this year.

The election in 1948 was followed by controversy at Wits with the use of black students, which was contrary to policy at that time.

Bizos said that led to the first expulsion of a black student which lead to protests, particularly by the Student Representative Council, which was ignored.

Bizos gave a speech about the unfair treatment of the black students at Wits.

His passion came from being a refugee most of his life and witnessing black South Africans’ struggle. Bizos sees his grandfather and father as inspiration to stand up for what is right.

“If wanting equal treatment for all makes me a leftist, then I am proudly one,” Bizos said during his speech which captured the attention of Mandela.

“He wanted to know who I am, where I come from and what am I doing,” Bizos said.

They met at the Great Hall at Wits where they had their first conversation which lasted hours.

Not long afterwards, Bizos got a job at an attorney’s office and he would often have lunch with Mandela at a Chinese restaurant.

When Bizos became Mandela’s legal representative, the friendship further blossomed.

“By that time, Mandela was more of a family man and he often asked me for advice,” said Bizos. They started working together on cases.

“I married in 1954 and Mandela came to prepare papers at the house I was staying at. It was the house of a friend who was out of the country with his wife.

“My friend’s daughters remained and they saw me and Mandela working on the papers. I could hear giggling. It was obvious they were giggling at Nelson because of his race. I was embarrassed and annoyed,” said Bizos.

“You must come to my house as a white person and you will probably hear giggling as well,” Mandela jokingly told Bizos at the time.

“I became his favourite,” said Bizos.

The day he got married to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela called Bizos.

“He told me his new bride had been arrested for assaulting a policeman,” said Bizos who went on to represent Winnie on ­several occasions.

 

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Mandela had two daughters with Winnie, who had to go to Swaziland while Mandela was in prison.

Bizos said Mandela asked him to look after his family, but that Winnie was independent.

“Winnie didn’t require much help, she had a job and visited Nelson regularly,” said Bizos.

Treason Trial:

Bizos said during the Treason Trial he was more of a helper and did research on the case.

“During this time Mandela was mostly concerned about his children and Winnie.

“Winnie went to court every day, dressed in tribal clothing and she organised support for Mandela for the duration of the trial,” said Bizos.

Bizos said his talks with Mandela were mainly about politics.

“He was impressed by the things I spoke about. He was also interested in Greece,” said Bizos.

After his release from prison and the end of his marriage to Winnie, Bizos and Mandela spent two weeks together in Greece.

“Mandela was influenced by Greek politics. We were in Athens on the top floor of a hotel. Mandela looked out of the window and he asked me, ‘George, are you sure I haven’t been here before?’ We had fun in Greece,” Bizos told the NEWS.

They went to the seafront on a Sunday afternoon to a restaurant and Mandela wanted three tables for guest including his security.

The restaurant had a rope around the tables for Mandela and guests, when he noticed children coming up and greeting him.

Bizos said Mandela asked the owner of the restaurant to release the rope and to let the children come up to greet him.

Later years:

Later in Mandela’s life, Bizos went to visit him at his home in Houghton after receiving a call from his wife Graça Machel that Mandela requested to see him.

Bizos said Mandela’s memory was affected by this time.“Mandela sat at the head of the table and his wife on the right. I sat on his left and habitually they had a late afternoon lunch. He loved lamb from a spit-braai. Nelson asked me about the ANC and he had a few concerns about government. He wanted to know about my work and asked about my family,” said Bizos.

“He was very serious about my well-being while I was worried about his well-being. He would assume I wore a jacket, which I had left in my car, and would say, ‘Hey George, don’t leave your jacket behind’,” said Bizos.

Bizos said when it came to politics and after his presidency, Mandela had a tendency not to make any public statements, especially about the ANC.

“He only broke it once or twice. Once when he spoke to Mbeki about recognising HIV/Aids as a huge problem. He was passionate about this. He only spoke about politics privately,” said Bizos.

People often asked Bizos how they could appease Mandela.

“If you have money, build a school or a hospital. I will come and speak,” Mandela told Bizos in response.

He said that businessmen had to justify why they want to use him for any sort of business.

Bizos said that for him it came naturally to appease Mandela.

His misses his friend’s humorous nature.

“My mother-in-law came for lunch in the northern suburbs one late afternoon, and after lunch I would take her home. Before I took her home I was asked by Mandela to do a talk and I went to his home in Houghton with my mother-in-law. I went inside to read the draft to him and it took about 10 minutes. Mandela walked me out to my car and saw my mother-in-law in the car and said to her, ‘What sort of a mother-in-law are you to allow your son-in-law to treat you so badly by leaving you in a car alone.’ She just laughed,” said Bizos.

“I miss how generous he was. I miss that about him. You didn’t need to be a top politician to be his friend,” said Bizos.

He said he also appreciated the time Mandela took with Saheti School in Bedfordview of which Bizos is a co-founder.

“He became very interested in the educational standard of Saheti School. He visited the school regularly. He would’ve been particularly pleased with the school when 1 000 students applauded the election of a black girl as head girl, last year at Saheti School” said Bizos.

Bizos said that Mandela was always concerned about the people of SA as a whole.

“He was serious and meant it when he said South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”

 

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Contact the newsroom by emailing: Melissa Hart (Editor) germistoncitynews@caxton.co.za or Leigh Hodgson (News Editor) leighh@caxton.co.za or Kgotsofalang Mashilo (journalist) kgotsofalangm@caxton.co.za

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