Political fallout around the suicide of the dean of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Bongani Mayosi, continued at his funeral, with his family lashing the #FeesMustFall movement.
#FeesMustFall students “vandalised the soul” of Mayosi, his sister told mourners. And the cardiologist’s wife, Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, said of her husband: “You cared so deeply for people who now treated you as the enemy.”
According to a SABC News report, the family said he was never the same after the protests – he was unable to handle the insults hurled at him by protestors. Mayosi’s sister, Advocate Ncumisa is quoted in the report as saying: “The vitriolic character of student engagements tore him apart. The abrasive do or die scorched earth approach adopted by navigating what was a legitimate cause completely vandalised Bongani’s soul.”
Over two thousand people paid their final respects to Mayosi, who took his own life during a battle with depression on Friday, 27 July. News24 reports that a world-renowned cardiologist, 51-year-old Mayosi was granted a special provincial funeral on the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa, with the service held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
The report says Mayosi’s death triggered an outpouring of tributes from around the world, and the country’s flag was flown at half-mast on Saturday in the Western Cape out of respect for a man who had made so many positive contributions to his country. Speaker after speaker took to the podium and spoke of a man who was dedicated to his profession, an academic, leader and visionary, as well as a dedicated family man.
These included childhood friend Dr Fundile Nyati; Groote Schuur Hospital CEO Dr Bhavna Patel; UCT head of medicine Professor Ntobeko Ntusi; chair of the UCT council Sipho Pityana; UCT paediatric cardiologist Liesl Zuhlke; UCT head of cardiology Professor Mpiko Ntsekhe; and British cardiologist Professor Hugh Watkins‚ who works at the universities of Oxford and Harvard.
The report says his sister, Ncumisa, said the family asked themselves what they had missed and what they could have done to better support him. She said Mayosi’s battle with depression had begun when he became dean of health sciences at UCT.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he had been reading a lot of stories about Mayosi and his involvement at the University of Cape Town since becoming dean. “It was painful to me that some called him a coconut and a sell-out, while others on the opposing spectrum said he was reckless in his position of leadership, for listening to students and even marching with them. I am here to tell you today that the Bongani I know was none of those,” he said.
Motsoaledi said he had approached Mayosi to head up the Medical Research Council, but the professor had turned him down. “He looked at me and said, minister, you have two choices, either I come over, or I stay at UCT and continue to help produce many more black graduates. He looked me straight in the eye and said, please understand, if I leave UCT, many black students won’t graduate.”
UCT says an inquiry into Mayosi’s death is under way, reports Business Day. This comes after a group of academics called for an inquiry into the factors that led to his suicide. The Black Academic Caucus at UCT and others referred to as concerned UCT staff‚ released a statement calling on the university council to set up an inquiry “as soon as possible after the funeral” on Saturday. They want “a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to (Prof) Mayosi’s decision to terminate his life”.
The group also said that “this inquiry must be set up in consultation with especially black staff and students‚ who have, on various occasions, expressed their experiences of being marginalised at UCT”. They said that key to the inquiry would be “an understanding of the working conditions in institutions such as UCT”.
The report says the #FeesMustFall movement has come under the spotlight over the way its members occupied Mayosi’s office‚ taunted him‚ belittled him and called him names in 2016. Professor Jonathan Jansen is quoted as writing: “He suffered greatly when students occupied his offices during the fees protests‚ humiliating and insulting this gentleman to the extent that he had to take two months of leave to recover.”
Others have blamed UCT‚ describing a culture in which successful black academics have undue pressure put on them compared to their white colleagues.
The report says the Black Academic Caucus and Concerned UCT Staff also criticised what they saw as an undermining of the wishes of the Mayosi family since the cardiologist’s death. The two groups said they were “deeply concerned with the manner in which the circumstances that precipitated Mayosi’s tragic fate” had been handled “following the announcement by the family on 28 July that he took his own life”. They said the “mudslinging” of the past few days was “premature” and not in keeping with the “expressed wishes” of the Mayosi family, which had “clearly indicated their need for privacy at this difficult time”.
Defending the #FeesMustFall protests, Chumani Maxwele, a postgraduate student at UCT’s African studies and politics department writes in a report carried on the Politicsweb site: “Professor Bongani Mayosi’s passing away comes as a huge surprise to us, as student activists. We are completely paralysed by his passing away.
“Professor Bangani Mayosi is killed by the University of Cape Town.
“We must read his passing away very closely and within a particular context. Now that we know that UCT received two resignation letters from Professor Mayiso and at both times they refused him to go back to his medicine division. What were his reasoning for resigning? What was UCT’s reasons for refusing to let him go? Why did UCT management refuse Prof Mayosi’s resignation? Where are his letters of resignation? If UCT knew that Prof Mayosi was facing difficulties, what remedial actions did the university take to tranquilize his predicament?
“It is not enough for the current UCT vice chancellor Prof Phakeng, whom was part of the senior management leadership with the former vice chancellor Dr Price at the time of Prof Mayosi’s resignation, to reiterate that the reason why UCT turned down Prof Mayosi’s resignation was because it would not have ‘…looked good for a Black Dean to resign…’.
“This means that UCT management cared more about the so-called ‘good name’ of the university as opposed to Prof Mayosi’s wellbeing. Why then blame student activists at health sciences? Prof Phakeng is on good record saying ‘…UCT failed Prof Mayosi…’ and thus in many ways this means that UCT killed Prof Mayosi and concurring with our position that indeed UCT killed Prof Mayosi by effectively refusing his resignation letters.
“Now that #FeesMustFall great names has been dragged to The Mayosi Affair we demand a full disclosure, in the spirit of ‘openness and healing’, of the correspondence of Prof Mayosi and the university, that is, senior management include the former vice chancellor Dr Price response to Prof Mayosi’s strong desire resign. This disclosure must include letters, e-mails and minutes of meetings in relation to his request to resign from deanery of faculty of health science.
“It must be said that the notion that #FeesMustFall ‘…student activist at health sciences called Prof Mayosi a coconut and a sellout…’ is not of itself a new phenomenon within student political movements and thus it is not an isolated incident in of itself. There are many Black academics and students who have been called names by the student activists in the heat of political debates.
“Prof Mangcu and Prof Ramugondo were both called coconuts and sellouts and they both understood Black students’, whom are their own children, hurting challenges at the university like Prof Mayosi, Prof Mangcu and Prof Ramugondo continued to work with students to this day.
“The real issue here is that Prof Mayosi was called ‘incompetent’ by white people who were supposed to take his instructions on decolonization and transformation of health sciences and more so the medical school and implement them. White people at health sciences did not trust nor have faith neither supported Prof Mayosi’s vision of transforming and decolonising health sciences. Therefore, Prof Mayosi was racially discriminated by white people and questioned on the basis of his Blackness. It is a well-known reality that health sciences at UCT is racially polarized.
“Professor Mayosi’s passing away comes after more than four Black UCT students killed themselves just last year alone. And we knew that the university killed them. It is a well-known reality that UCT environment is not friendly to Black people.
“It must be said that Prof Mayosi worked in the most hostile environment and this is health sciences at UCT. This faculty is dominated by old white people largely from the apartheid regime. And it is the least transformed faculty at UCT.”