Travels with George Bizos: how the law threw up some bumpy roads

On October 1 2012, the scene was set for the judicial commission of inquiry to commence its hearings into the Marikana massacre. Forty-four people were killed, 34 of them by police, in August of that year.

The night before I had been with George Bizos, Jason Brickhill, Miriam Wheeldon, Bongumusa Sibiya, Avani Singh, Michael Power — all lawyers at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). George, Jason and I were the counsel team, while Miriam and Bongumusa were the attorney team.

George had asked for a lift from Johannesburg to Rustenburg where the hearings would be held. I volunteered. In that three-hour drive he would regale me with stories about past inquiries flowing from the harrowing brutality of the apartheid police: Sharpeville, Soweto, the Harms commission, the Goldstone commission, the Boipatong massacre. He talked about inquests into murders of activists in police custody: Looksmart Ngudle, Steve Biko, Ahmed Timol, the Cradock Four.

George had lived through all of these, from 1960-1993. He thought he would never witness them again. Yet he was wrong. And disappointed. He would recall the familiar excuse of the police: they were under attack; they acted in self-defence; a prisoner jumped out of the window of a 20-storey building; the protesters were a dangerous and armed mob; and so on.

Judges of the past inquiries had excused the conduct of the police. And so too did the magistrates. Faced with incontrovertible evidence of torture, as in the case of Ngudle — the first political activist to die in police detention under apartheid — the magistrate would exculpate the police. They did the same at the Biko inquest, despite the medical evidence pointing to gruesome assault before his murder. The laughable excuse for the murder of Timol — that he committed suicide by jumping off a building — found favour with the magistrate. At Sharpeville, the evidence was that most of those killed by the police had been shot from the back. But the official police line was that they had been killed in a confrontation with the police. The probabilities were that they had been shot while trying to run away from the police.

George recalled that the apartheid police were also notorious for planting weapons at the scene of the crime. They had done so in Sharpeville and in many other incidents that followed it. These barbarous acts, he hoped, had been a thing of the ...
13 Sep 2020 12PM English South Africa Business News · News

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