Bongani Mayosi in an operating theatre at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 2017.
Image: Ruvan Boshoff

A few months ago I met Professor Bongani Mayosi in his office at UCT. I had long admired this friend and fellow traveller in the tumultuous world of South African higher education.

What struck me about his office was how modest it was, even drab, compared with any dean’s suite I had seen before. And there was something about his demeanour. He was quiet and reserved, unlike the energetic, ever-smiling and engaging man I had met before. But I shrugged it off as the pressures of deanship of one of the toughest and most prestigious academic faculties in the country.

Last week, this A-rated scholar, who became known throughout the world for his groundbreaking research on the relationship between heart disease and poverty, killed himself.

Since the violent student protests of 2015-16, several black vice-chancellors and deans have stepped down from their positions in some of the country’s leading universities – including the dean of law and the head of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, and the vice-chancellors of Pretoria, the Free State and Nelson Mandela universities, to name a few. One common thread runs through these resignations: the high costs of leadership in South African higher education.

Read Jansen's full column on Times Select.