There has been finger-pointing at the University of Cape Town in the aftermath of Professor Bongani Mayosi’s death by suicide on July 27, 2018. Shortly after his passing, Mayosi’s family disclosed that he had been struggling with depression, a major risk factor for suicide, for the past two years. While many have acknowledged that depression is a consequence of an interplay of a multitude of factors, some of the comments that have been made in the past few days by those who knew Mayosi closely indicate that the Fees Must Fall (FMF) protests are considered to be the main factor that led to the demise of the medical giant.
UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, addressing the media last week, revealed that Mayosi was called a ‘coconut’ or ‘sell-out’ by some students during the 2016/2017 FMF protests, which may have affected his mental health. “He went on three months’ leave and early this year collapsed because of a psychological attack. Protests in 2016/17 weren’t kind to him as a dean. Students were angry at him, called him a coconut out of anger. He experienced pressure from staff, students and black students,” said Phakeng. She also revealed that Mayosi had tendered his resignation in November last year. However, apparently, the university convinced him to stay. “It’s a pity that we as an institution didn’t listen to him, then draw on his strength, make sure he is happy,” she said.
Following her comments, Phakeng received criticism for indicting students, with some blaming UCT for not accepting Mayosi’s resignation, knowing that he was depressed. Later Phakeng clarified that she was not blaming the protests for Professor Mayosi’s death. “What I said was that the protests of 2016 and 2017 were not kind to any of us at the University of Cape Town, and they were not kind to Professor Mayosi as dean of the faculty of health sciences. His office was occupied for about two weeks in 2016. He had to manage pressure coming from many different directions, including from staff and students. And some black students were angry with him. They called him names, like coconut or sell-out, when his intentions were really for the students’ best welfare,” said Phakeng. On Saturday, Prof Mayosi’s sister, Adv Ncumisa Mayosi said, “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.”
A week earlier, in a Facebook post, Chumani Maxwele, a #FeesMustFall activist, blamed UCT for Mayosi’s death, saying the environment at the university was not friendly towards black people. “Professor Bongani Mayosi was killed by the University of Cape Town,” said Maxwele. “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,” he added.
According to reports, the A-rated researcher and respected cardiologist was called incompetent and constantly reminded that he was not good enough by white academics, who were reportedly against his stance on transformation. Mayosi is said to have transformed UCT’s Health Sciences Faculty into the only one at the university with a majority black staff.
Mayosi was laid to rest on Saturday in Cape Town in a special provincial funeral, with the country’s flag flown at half-mast in the Western Cape. He leaves behind his mother Nontle Mayosi, wife Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo and two daughters S’vuyile and Camagu.
UCT announced on Friday that it had set up an inquiry into Mayosi’s death.