Friend, client, confidant: George Bizos on 65 years of friendship with Nelson Mandela
When George Bizos met Nelson Mandela at the University of Witwatersrand in 1948 it was, he says, a ‘momentous year’. The National Party had come to power, expanding and codifying racial segregation. Anti-apartheid protests were common. At the time, Bizos – a Greek migrant who arrived in South Africa aged 13 – was a prominent activist, while Mandela was a passionate Africanist. Both were instrumental in leading campus demonstrations against the establishment.
The fellow law students swiftly became great friends. It was a relationship that was to endure for six and a half decades, until Mandela’s death on 5 December 2013. Incredibly, says Bizos, over the course of that time they did not quarrel once. ‘We were very special friends,’ he tells Global Insight. ‘The friendship certainly enriched my life and the life of my family. He remembered the names of our children, he wanted to know how they were getting on at school and what they wanted to do. He was that kind of friend.’
Described by Mandela as a ‘wholly trusted confidant’ and ‘Uncle George’ to his family, Bizos’s name soon became inextricably linked with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. His first big test came in 1956, when he helped represent 156 African National Congress (ANC) leaders arrested on charges of treason following the publication of the Freedom Charter. The trial lasted four years, at the end of which all were found not guilty.
However, the victory was ‘pyrrhic’, Bizos says. Shortly afterwards the ANC was declared illegal following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 black protesters were shot and killed by police. The move prompted Mandela and fellow ANC leaders to establish Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a military movement that aimed to force the government’s hand through acts of sabotage, but without loss of life.
In response, the government introduced laws equating sabotage with treason, and bringing in the death penalty. Pre-trial detention periods were extended indefinitely, while political activists were tortured to reveal names of anti-apartheid colleagues.
Finally, in 1963, the top leaders of the ANC were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm near Johannesburg. At the time, Mandela was already languishing in prison following a conviction for inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without permission, and was brought into the consultation room from Robben Island ‘in short trousers and boots without socks’. As leader of the MK, he was charged as ‘accused number one’.
‘A decision was made that the accused would not deny they were members of the MK, but say that the propaganda was false because one of the preconditions of the violence they embarked upon was that there should be very careful steps taken to avoid causing loss of life,’ Bizos says. ‘So they turned the tables at the plea stage. When Nelson Mandela was asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty, he said that the government should be in the dock and he had done nothing morally wrong. And that would be their defence.’
Richard Goldstone on Nelson Mandela
Richard Goldstone is a former South African Supreme Court judge renowned for his rulings that undermined the policy of apartheid. In the 1990s, he headed the influential Goldstone Commission investigations into political violence in South Africa, and in 1994 he was appointed the first Chief Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He succeeded Mandela as Honorary President of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute in 2012 and is currently Co-Chair of the IBA’s Rule of Law Action Group.
“Nelson Mandela’s enduring legacy is that after three centuries of racial oppression and suffering by the majority of South Africans, reconciliation and a relatively peaceful transition to democracy was possible and has largely been achieved. The overwhelming majority of South Africans could not have imagined it. It was Nelson Mandela’s leadership, based on integrity and dignity, which overcame huge odds and achieved the non-racial democracy that we enjoy in South Africa today.
For me personally, Nelson Mandela was the most impressive, dignified and inspiring person that I have ever been privileged to know. Without his support and encouragement, I would not have become involved with international justice or have been privileged to sit on the first Constitutional Court of South Africa.
The key challenge still facing South Africa is to overcome a legacy of inequality and oppression. Those inequalities are most visible in the gap between the rich and the poor. Twenty years of democracy has given rise to a growing black middle class and at the same time little improvement in the economic plight of the mass of our people.
The challenge is to convince South Africans that democratic government can deliver improved and meaningful social and economic benefits.”
By the time of the treason and Rivonia trials, Mandela had matured considerably since his student days, Bizos says. He was less defiant, more conciliatory; yet he retained his youthful vigour and drive. ‘At university we were all a little more fiery than we were later in our lives, and Nelson Mandela was no exception. But from the early 1950s he was a solid, non-racialist leader […]. He became a very mature politician who envisaged a democratic, egalitarian, non-racial society.’
Bizos too had matured. A potent legal mind and tactician, he has been credited with helping Mandela avoid the death penalty by tweaking his famous speech in the dock: he persuaded his friend to add ‘if needs be’ before the phrase ‘it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die’. However, while Bizos concedes he did insert the clause in order to prevent Mandela being seen to embrace martyrdom, he denies it had a decisive influence on the judge. Instead, he says, the death sentence was avoided due to opposition from the UN – the US and UK were particularly concerned about domestic protests should it be imposed, he points out – and the predilection of Judge Quartus de Wet, who had recently erroneously sentenced a man to death and had since developed a newfound aversion to the penalty.
In his zeal for a quick conviction, prosecutor Percy Yutar also neglected to cross-examine Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki on their denials that the ANC and MK had adopted a policy of guerrilla warfare, Bizos says – obliging the judge to accept the defendants’ testimony. ‘When Bram Fischer [lead counsel] drew the attention of the judge to the fact that the evidence was not challenged, the judge said he had to accept it. I think he was looking for opportunities to avoid the death sentence.’
Instead, Mandela and his fellow accused were locked up for life. Bizos became a regular visitor to the prison, and a staunch, unwavering support for his friend. Despite the harsh conditions, Mandela never lost hope over the course of 27 years, Bizos says. And he remained ever a gentleman. On his first visit to Robben Island in August 1964, Bizos recalls the scene. ‘He was surrounded by no less than eight wardens. And he said, “You know, George, I haven’t been in this place for a long time, but it has led me to forget my manners. I have not yet introduced you to my guards of honour.” And he proceeded to introduce me to each one of them, first name and surname. They were embarrassed and shook my hand, but not in a proper handshake. It showed he hadn’t broken his spirit.’
During Bizos’s visits, the two friends often communicated through sign language and lip-reading to avoid being overheard by hidden microphones. Mandela regularly advised Bizos to ‘keep his nose clean’ so he could remain outside jail and defend others – including Mandela’s second wife, Winnie, who he represented around 20 times and who avoided prison every time except once. ‘This placed a responsibility on me,’ says Bizos. ‘I was instrumental in defending Winnie when she was charged, which was regularly. And he appreciated that very much. I was happy to be of service to him, a great man.’
Bizos says Mandela was always optimistic of being freed eventually. In anticipation of the 1996 Olympic Games, the two made a pact to go to Athens together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Greek Olympics. ‘Sadly it wasn’t to be,’ Bizos says ruefully. ‘Nelson Mandela was released – but Athens didn’t get the Olympics.’
Now, following Mandela’s death, Bizos hopes the current South African leadership will use the opportunity to take stock and learn from his legacy. While many members of both government and opposition ‘claim they are following his footsteps’, Bizos believes ‘not enough has been done’. ‘I believe that they either don’t know what his footsteps were or they are kidding some of us by what they are doing, and they must stop doing it,’ he stresses. ‘They must follow the true legacy of Nelson Mandela, which we know so well.’
Hugh Stubbs, 1946–2014
The numerous heartfelt tributes to Hugh Stubbs from former colleagues around the world – including current and past presidents of the Association and honorary life members – leave no doubt as to the measure of his contribution to the IBA, or the high regard in which he is held. He is described variously as an éminence grise, a great human being and, by many, as a loyal friend.
Hugh’s contribution to the IBA began in earnest in the mid-1980s. Andrew Primrose, former SLP Chair (2001–2002), now an honorary life member of the IBA, worked closely with him. Both were officers in the committees of the Section on General Practice (SGP) and then the Section itself. ‘Hugh was a great “doer” which was a huge asset for the SGP and the IBA,’ says Primrose. ‘He got things done, he prepared well, he ran efficient, purposeful meetings and followed decisions through at times when it might have been easier not to have done.’
Primrose recalls that Hugh was a passionate believer in the worth of the SGP as a separate section and wanted to see it thrive within the IBA. As a commercial litigator, Hugh could have been an active member of the Section on Business Law (SBL) but chose to devote his energy to the success of the SGP with its emphasis on issues such as access to justice, family law, legal education and human rights. With President Ross Harper and others, Hugh assisted in the launch of the Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), which now plays such a vital role around the world.
Hugh and Andrew Primrose negotiated over a long period the re-organisation of the SLP and SBL. At times this presented challenges, but led eventually to the present organisation of the Association. Primrose is unequivocal about the contribution Hugh Stubbs made to the Association: ‘The IBA has never had such a dedicated, practical volunteer worker.’
IBA President Michael Reynolds echoes this view of Hugh’s long-term and unstinting commitment. ‘Throughout his professional career as a top English lawyer operating on the international scene, Hugh was wholeheartedly devoted to the IBA and he made an enormous contribution to the Association’s work and progress,’ says Reynolds. ‘He was a highly successful officer. In particular, he played a great role in the major restructuring of the IBA which took effect in 2004 and we all benefited from his very wise counsel and experience at the time of this crucial reform.’
Stephen Revell is an LPD representative on the IBA Management Board and was a long-time partner of Hugh’s at Freshfields. He recalls that Hugh became a partner in 1977 (having joined the firm in 1972) and built a strong litigation practice, which continued until his retirement from Freshfields in 1999. Hugh was always at the forefront of things international at Freshfields including being a key member of its Hong Kong litigation practice for over four years. ‘Given Hugh’s extensive international connections it was no surprise that upon his retirement he became even more involved with the IBA an involvement that I know he really enjoyed,’ says Revell. ‘This enjoyment stemmed not only from his continued interaction with lawyers from all around the world but also a strong sense of “giving back” to the profession that had provided him with such a fruitful career.’
‘Hugh’s contribution to the IBA was historic’
Honorary life member of the IBA
Keith Baker is an honorary life member of the IBA. As a rising committee officer he soon learnt that ‘you didn’t mess with Hugh’. For some time, Baker says, he was in awe of Hugh. Two events changed this. Hugh offered to host a meeting of the IBA Charity Trustees at Merchant Taylor’s Hall. Non-London lawyers might not be aware of the City Guilds and Livery Companies – English institutions and patrons of the arts, schools and charity. ‘We were entertained by The Master – yes, it was Hugh,’ says Baker. ‘The hospitality was lavish and we were treated to a unique “back-stage” tour after lunch, including a view of the medieval foundations of the Hall. Truly an unforgettable experience.’
Another key event, Baker recalls, came during 2003-2004 when they were both vying with others to become Secretary-Treasurer of the new PPID, ‘of course on a very gentlemanly basis’. The Nominations Committee in Washington in 2004 recommended to Council that the post be taken by Bob Stein. ‘Hugh and I bumped into each other later in the evening, marking the start of a long night during which a great deal of whisky was consumed by both of us and my perception of Hugh changed forever,’ says Baker. ‘He continued to serve the IBA in whatever role might be beneficial to the IBA and was the first person to offer Bob Stein, a hugely successful Secretary General of the ABA but then a relative newcomer to the IBA, a crash course on how the IBA worked.’
Baker sums up his view of Hugh Stubbs’ contribution and friendship: ‘Hugh dedicated a massive amount of his time and his intellect to the IBA and with great vision as to how it might progress, and regardless of personal advancement or the risk to his professional career. For those who were privileged to see a different side to him, as I was, he was a great human being and a loyal friend.’
Akira Kawamura recalls Hugh’s role as Secretary-General of the Bar Issues Commission (BIC), a position which he took on voluntarily for seven years. ‘He laid the foundations for the great success of the BIC, which all of us now witness,’ says Kawamura. ‘I know what an important step it was in terms of the growth of the IBA towards the Association it is today. I had the honour of being the first BIC Chair and we need more great wisdom such as his for the continued growth of the IBA as the global voice of the legal profession.’
James Klotz is a former Chair of the BIC. He has been part of the BIC from its infancy and, in that capacity, came to know Hugh Stubbs well. ‘I treasured Hugh’s wise counsel, was challenged by his insights, and blessed with his friendship for more than ten years,’ says Klotz. ‘His role was somewhere between éminence griseand “make sure they don’t make a mess of it”. We quickly came to rely on Hugh […] the phrase “a gentleman and a scholar” was coined for him […] when Hugh stepped down as its Secretary-General at the end of my term as BIC Chair, he left the BIC well established, intensely relevant, and immensely grateful for the mark he made on the organisation.’
Michael Reynolds credits Hugh Stubbs with playing a major part in making sure that the Association was set on a firm and successful financial course, in his Assistant Treasurer role between 2000 and 2004. ‘He was always a delight to work with, always displaying profound wisdom in his sound advice all dispensed with great personal charm and an unfailing sense of humour. At all times, he made time to answer any question from the IBA staff or officers on the basis of his vast experience. He gave his time selflessly to the Association and pursued any task undertaken with enthusiasm, energy and a sharp eye for detail. Throughout my own career at the IBA, right from the beginning, in 1979, he always encouraged me. He was an amusing and entertaining travelling companion in many parts of the world. I personally owe him an immense debt of gratitude and I am sure that goes for many others too.’
‘The IBA has never had such a dedicated, practical volunteer worker’
Honorary life member of the IBA
Francis Neate is a former President and an honorary life member of the IBA. He worked closely with Hugh on IBA matters for more than 15 years. ‘Hugh was always constructive, thoughtful and easy to work with,’ says Neate. ‘If I wanted to single out one contribution that few would know about, because Hugh did it quietly and without fuss, it was the informal but considerable assistance Hugh gave to Desmond Fernando during the latter’s presidency, which coincided with Paul Hoddinott’s first years as Executive Director. It was difficult for Desmond to keep his finger on the pulse from a distance or to travel consistently, and behind the scenes, Hugh contributed considerably to helping to keep the show on the road.’
Neate is clear about what made Hugh’s such an invaluable contribution. ‘The work of those [review] committees could not have been so successful if their members had not been willing to put aside sectarian interests and work together in the interests of the Association as a whole, an attitude typified by Hugh.’
Jacques Buhart, honorary life member of the IBA, agrees: ‘Hugh’s contribution to the IBA has been historic. Without his vision and interest for the IBA as a whole, it would not have been possible to restructure the IBA from the original SBL and SGP structure. Thanks to Hugh we could make the IBA a clearer and more efficient organisation.’
Neate adds: ‘I always felt him to be a good and reliable friend. It was friendships like this that, for me, made membership of the IBA so worthwhile.’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the tributes to Hugh have come from far and wide. Kumar Shankardass, former President (1997–1998) and honorary life member of the IBA, based in Delhi, says: ‘I recall from long ago with much admiration and respect Hugh’s ready and enlightened contribution and cooperation provided to the IBA over the years.’ Honorary life member of the IBA Alejandro Ogarrio of Mexico says: ‘[Hugh was] committed, dedicated and always generous in helping others in any possible way. It is difficult to visualize the launch of the Bar Issues Commission without his full support.’
Hugh Stubbs is remembered with great fondness by all those at the IBA who knew him and worked alongside him. Our deepest condolences go to his family.
Tomas Lindholm, 1953–2014
The sad news regarding Tomas Lindholm – who served as IBA Treasurer from 2003 to 2004 – reached the IBA office in January. Tomas held many positions in the IBA and was extremely influential in its evolution. As well as serving as a Member of Council between 2001 and 2004, he was a member of both the 2003 and 2011 review committees that addressed the structure of the Association.
He was also a leader of the profession in Finland: Tomas counseled and acted for most of the top Finnish corporations. He had the vision to lead his former firm Roschier – a top Finnish–Swedish law firm to which he devoted over 25 years – to become an important player in Northern Europe. After his retirement, Tomas co-founded with his wife Carita his second firm, Lindholm Wallgren, and the development of this boutique firm was going from success to success until interrupted by his illness a year ago.
‘Tomas was a visionary within the profession and a great supporter of the IBA’
Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association and IBA Council Member
David W Rivkin, IBA Vice-President, originally worked with him when Tomas was Treasurer of the IBA and Rivkin was Treasurer of the IBA’s SBL (just before its reorganisation). ‘Tomas was an outstanding person who led in so many ways through his warmth, compassion, intelligence and character,’ says Rivkin. ‘He understood beautifully the role of the lawyer: to provide intelligent and practical advice on which clients could rely. As a result, he led the success and expansion of his firm, Roschier, based in Helsinki, to have a global impact. In his final years, he enjoyed doing the same high-quality work with his family firm, Lindholm Wallgren. We were privileged to know him and to work with him, and we will miss him dearly.’
Former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier says of Tomas: ‘We have lost an outstanding individual. Tomas had exceptional qualifications and values as a professional and human being. During all the years we knew each other and worked together, we became good friends and I always admired his capacity to listen, his constructive approach and diplomatic skills. He was a well-recognized and respected business lawyer in Finland and beyond.
Tomas was a regular attendee of the IBA’s Annual Conferences, convening panels and speaking on issues such as globalisation and the challenges it presents for core values of the legal profession; the benefits and burdens of self-regulation; and the risks and threats of corruption.
Peláez-Pier is in no doubt that Tomas Lindholm has made a lasting impact on his profession. ‘Tomas is gone but his contributions to the legal profession, including his strong support to our profession’s core values, will represent his legacy. The IBA loses a prominent member, who contributed to its development and consolidation as the global voice of the legal profession, as the Council representative for the Finnish Bar, as IBA Treasurer and member of its Board and Council and just as a member. During recent years, I was fortunate to have him as my Vice-Chair in the Task Force which reorganised the IBA regional activities and as my Co-Chair in the second review committee to restructure the IBA. Due to his illness he was not able to attend the presentation of our final report to the Council in Dublin.’
Anne Ramberg, Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association and IBA Council Member, views Tomas as a role model within the profession. ‘He was a respected lawyer and a prominent leader of Roschier. As such he was a trusted adviser to Finnish industry. As a former president of the Finnish Bar he was always loyal to the core values of the profession. Tomas was a visionary within the profession and a great supporter of the IBA. Tomas was a very good friend, and a caring father and husband. He will be sorely missed by us all.’