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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 25 October 2014
8 SATURDAY 25 OCTOBER 2014 AUSTRALIA Pistorius sentence ‘appropriate’ Says Mandela’s Greek lawyer George Bizos ALEKOS ECONOMOU Oscar Pistorius received an appropriate sentence for the culpable homi- cide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and received fair treatment by the South Africa courts, said world-fa- mous human rights law- yer George Bizos. The case of the charis- matic disabled athlete, who shot his girlfriend through the bathroom door of his flat think- ing she was an intruder, drew massive interna- tional media attention. On Tuesday, High Court judge Thokozile Masipe sentenced Pistorius to a five-year jail term. His lawyers want him to serve 10 months in jail and serve the rest under house arrest. As with her finding that Pistorius was not guilty of murder but the lesser charge of culpable homi- cide, Masipe's sentence drew a lot of criticism for its leniency. "I think it is a proper sentence in the circum- stances," said Bizos, who is no stranger to show trials. The Greek-born lawyer is credited with saving the late Nelson Mandela and key figures of the African National Congress from hanging when Bizos represented at what was in 1964 the "trial of the century". The Rivonia Treason Trial was played out to far higher stakes - the soul of a na- tion. It was the opening shot in a titanic struggle to end racial discrimina- tion through the policy of apartheid and bring about true democracy in South Africa. It galvanised world opinion against the white minority government. Journalists, academics and diplomats converged on Johannesburg for the trial and marvelled at the dignity and determination of Mandela and his fellow defendants. The accused men knew they would be found guilty and could face the death penalty but were deter- mined to use the trial to state their case to the world. Bizos provided cru- cial advice on how Mande- la should deliver his state- ment. Instead of being hanged, Mandela received a life sentence of which he was to serve 26 years. He was released in 1990 to head negotiations that paved the way for real de- mocracy in 1994, the year that Mandela was elected the first president in free and fair elections for all South Africans, not just the white minority. The media frenzy of the Pistorius case is a melo- drama that echoes the OJ Simpson murder trial of the 1990s. The case, com- ingasitdidinthewakeof the Lance Armstrong scan- dal, represented another fallen sports hero. There was a massive out- cry when Masipa found Pistorius was guilty of culpable homicide not murder. Some even threat- ened to kill the judge and a security team was as- signed to protect her. Bizos sees nothing wrong with the verdict or with the South African justice system. "The (Pistorius) trial was conducted by a very expe- rienced and solid judge. There was no direct evi- dence that he actually knew he was shooting at his girlfriend. To convict somebody of a charge of murder, you have to have direct evidence - rarely on circumstantial evidence will there be a verdict of wilful murder," said Bizos. "The circumstantial evi- dence actually proved that he knew he was shooting at a person and the proba- bility was that that person would be killed and he (Pistorius) should have known that. That is culpable homicide which attracts a sentence of less than 15 years." The interest in the case was so high that court pro- ceedings were broadcast live, the first time this has been done in South Africa. "You cannot stop peo- ple from expressing their opinions about the cor- rectness of a judgement, but to let justice be done, it cannot depend on public opinion," said Bizos. Whatever the public con- troversies that the Pisto- rius case has generated, Bizos said South Africa's judicial system is in very good hands. "We appeal to people to not be too judgemental in the application of justice. We are very proud of our (South African) judges and the manner in which the jus- tice system is worked," he added. "South Af- rica offers consti- tutional tolerance and is made up of a multicultural community. We are united in our diversity and sup- port unity in our coun- try. The communities and tribes should be proud of who they are." Bizos is proud of his Greek roots. He was born in Vasiltsi, south of Kal- amata, in 1928. He was 14 when the Nazi inva- sion of Greece took place. His father, An- toni, took George and seven New Zealander sol- diers on a caique to cross the Aegean to Crete. Be- fore they could get there, they were picked up by an English warship that took them to Alexandria. Father and son were then taken to South Africa. He studied law at the University of the Wit- watersrand in Johan- nesburg and it was there that he met the young Mandela and formed a lifelong friendship that sur- vived the turmoil of the apartheid years in South Africa. "I was ac- cused of be- ing a traitor to the govern- ment, to the count. I was re- fused citizenship twice and I did not have a passport for over 30 years but I did what I thought was right. "There were people who thought that my actions brought the Greek commu- nity into disrepute. I am pleased to say that those who were against me then are now very generously Oscar Pistorius has most of the world wondering, is he running from justice?
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