A year after the death of Nelson Mandela’s friend and lawyer in South Africa, the main square of Vasilitsi, a village in Messinia in the southwestern Peloponnese, was named after George Α. Bizos on Sunday in a simple yet moving ceremony.
The place where Bizos was born, in 1927, paid tribute to a man whose life and work was an honor not just for Vasilitsi, but for Greece as a whole. The sunny sky above the square, where George may have once played with his friends before leaving the village at the age of 13, following his father on an adventure with no certain outcome, served as a reminder of the country to which he went on to dedicate his life, fighting the good fight for democracy and justice.
Like the bright sky above, many who form a bridge between Greece and South Africa attended the ceremony. Bizos’ children and grandchildren served as proof of the love he inspired in his family for the land of his birth, while South African Ambassador to Greece Beryl Sisulu hailed his love for the oppressed people of her country and how this was reciprocated.
“George was a man who combined a sympathetic nature with an incisive mind. He would meticulously slice through the evidence of security police and the judicial officials to make them seem stupid. For four decades he exposed state lies and hypocrisy, state brutality and murder,” said Sisulu, who is the daughter of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, pre-eminent figures in the fight against the apartheid. “He would do everything to care for the families of his clients when they were in prison. In most cases, George was like the uncle for the children of his clients. In the case of my family, George would represent the whole family at different times of our trials: Sometimes the entire adult members of the family would be in detention at the same time. It was the same for Mandela and his wife Winnie.”
Sisulu also stressed Bizos’ important role in the drafting of a very progressive constitution and in overseeing its implementation during and after the transition from apartheid. “He continued to do more for our nascent democracy following the 1994 democratic victory that he had so ably helped to secure,” she said.
“We are grateful to the Hellenes, the Hellenic Republic and in particular the mayor and the village community of Vasilitsi for sharing with us your treasured life in the form of George Bizos,” Sisulu said.
Looking out at the houses of this lovely village, the surrounding hills and the sea from George A. Bizos Square, we are compelled to ponder the wonderful and treasured life of a boy who, helping his father get seven New Zealand soldiers out of Greece in 1941, found himself a refugee in a faraway land where he dedicated his life to its fight for freedom.