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Advocate George Bizos to deliver Nadine Gordimer Lecture

When: Thursday, 18 May 2017 - Thursday, 18 May 2017
Where: Braamfontein Campus East
Great Hall, Wits University
Start time:18:00

Cost: Free

Nadine Gordimer – student, writer and activist: Through the eyes of Advocate George Bizos

“The gales of war blew a 13-year-old Greek boy to our shores. He was to become a South African civil rights lawyer of international standing, a devastating cross-examiner of apartheid’s torturers and killers. Long before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was visualized, George Bizos pursued the truth about what was being done to those who suffered under, and had the courage to oppose, a racist regime that turned brutal tyrant. When George Bizos won a case, it was not just a professional victory, it was an imperative of a man whose deep humanity directs his life.” – Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)

About George Bizos

Advocate George Bizos is a Wits alumnus who read law and graduated in 1954. Already driven by a keen sense of justice, he was active in student politics and served on the SRC. At Wits he began his lifelong friendship with Nelson Mandela, for whom he would later appear as counsel.

Bizos became a specialist in the political trial and appeared in most of the political-related trials from the late 1950s until the end of apartheid. He was a doyen among the ‘human rights lawyers’ and for any person charged with a political offence, Bizos was the first choice as advocate. He was part of the team that defended Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others in the Rivonia Trial (1963-64) and he defended Albertina Sisulu, Barbara Hogan and other women, particularly those defying the carrying of passes from the mid-1950s onwards. At democratization, he declined to accept judicial office but was appointed by President Mandela to serve on the Judicial Services Commission, which recommended judges.

Bizos has maintained close ties with his alma mater. From 1978 to 1990 he was a member of the Board of Control of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits.  In 1999, Wits awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contribution to the preservation and advancement of justice. 

Bizos and Gordimer met at Wits in the late 1940s. He was elected to the SRC for four years in a row when Gordimer – although not a registered student at the time – was closely associated with the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). Gordimer would often discuss politics with Bizos in his capacity as SRC member as they were involved in the same student struggles. Bizos is Chairperson of The Friends of Nadine Gordimer Committee established in 2015.

About Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)

Nadine Sylvia Gordimer was a precocious talent who began writing at the age of nine. She published her first story at 15. She was an occasional student at Wits in 1946 when she studied English literature and English language.  In her lifetime she wrote nine collections of short stories, eight novels, two volumes of literary criticism, and several plays for television. Her work was translated into 19 languages.  Virtually all of her works deal with themes of love and politics, particularly concerning race in South Africa.

Wits awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1984 and Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Among many other literary awards, Gordimer received the Chevalier de la  Légion d’Honneur (France) in 2007, which despite not being literary, “recognised perhaps the other side of my life”.

This “other side” was Gordimer’s political activism. She was a member of the ANC, which she worked with often while it was still an illegal organisation.

Gordimer told WITS Review in 2008: “The world thinks the problems began at the end of the 1940s when we invented apartheid, but the problems that we inherited go back centuries, of oppression, of totally unfair education...this backlog from the past, I always kept I mind, that with our wonderful new constitution that we’re so blessed with, you can’t possibly refuse to face the problems we have.”

About the Nadine Gordimer Lecture

This lecture series was inspired by the first round of lectures that Gordimer, with Pippa Stein, organised between 2004 and 2006. These were duly delivered by Susan Sontog (2004), Carlos Fuentos (2005) and Amartya Sen (2006). The lectures discontinued after Stein’s passing in 2006.

When Gordimer died in 2014, 10 friends gathered annually for dinner to pay tribute.  Among the 10 were Colin Smuts and Maureen Isaacson. They were nominated to approach the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits to resurrect the lectures. Out of this came The Friends of Nadine Gordimer Committee, an NPO of which George Bizos is Chairperson.

“We considered it fitting that George’s status as an outstanding human rights lawyer and his close relationship with Nadine made him the ideal person to give the first lecture,” says Smuts.

The lectures are intended to become an annual series featuring both local and international distinguished speakers. The focus of the lectures will continue to reflect Gordimer's interests.

“She was an activist and had a wide range of interests in which she participated, and therefore we intended continuing with that tradition,” says Smuts.

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