SOCIETY

Remembering Nelson Mandela

One would drive and the other would crouch down, hiding in the space in front of the passenger seat. “That was the only way we could meet, because I needed a special pass from the police to enter Nelson’s neighborhood,” George Bizos, now aged 85 and one of the lawyers to defend Nelson Mandela, as well as a close friend of the late African statesman, told Kathimerini.

“I am completely convinced that the strongest friendships are those built in difficult situations,” said Bizos before speaking at event organized by the Hellenic African Chamber of Commerce in honor of Mandela in Athens on March 19.

“We met in 1948 at university,” reminisces the South African Greek. “Most people my age at the time were experiencing bitter disappointment: They had interrupted their studies to fight alongside the allies only to find a government in their country that had embraced fascism.”

For Bizos, who left occupied Greece as a child with his father and after a lot of trials and tribulations reached South Africa, legitimizing racism was inconceivable. From early on in his career the lawyer embraced the philosophy of the charismatic South African freedom fighter and remained loyal to him until his death in December.

“I still remember a coded message I received from Bizos on behalf of Mandela, in which he urged the UN General Assembly to vote unanimously for the declaration condemning apartheid,” added Sotiris Mousouris, who served as director of the UN Center Against Apartheid from 1987 to 1992 and is now president of the Hellenic African Chamber of Commerce.

“The adoption of the declaration against apartheid in 1989 was pivotal in the developments that ensued in South Africa,” Mousouris told Kathimerini.

A lot of controversy surrounds the stance adopted by many Greeks in South Africa in the apartheid period as well as during the transition to democracy.

“But we are very proud of the symposium on ‘Culture Against Apartheid,’ which was organized in 1988 when Greece held the presidency of the European Union and thanks to then-Culture Minister Melina Mercouri, who had the courage to do it. The issue at hand, for which we got the support of an overwhelming number of artists, was for them to boycott appearances in South Africa,” said Mousouris. “Few in Europe would even touch the issue at the time.”