Tribute paid to Bongani Mayosi – the brilliant professor who ‘lived the lives of three people’

02 August 2018 - 20:02 By Tanya Farber
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng speaks during the memorial service of the dean of health sciences Professor Bongani Mayosi at the university's Memorial Hall on August 2 2018
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng speaks during the memorial service of the dean of health sciences Professor Bongani Mayosi at the university's Memorial Hall on August 2 2018
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Professor Bongani Mayosi‚ who tragically took his own life last week‚ had disappeared behind the mist of his innumerable accolades since news of his shocking death spread across the city‚ province‚ country and world.

Over the past few days‚ a full picture had emerged of the scholar‚ the mentor‚ the dean of health sciences‚ the flawless researcher‚ the loving father and husband‚ the thoughtful leader.

But‚ on late Thursday afternoon‚ as his younger sister stepped up to take the microphone at his official University of Cape Town memorial‚ the little boy with a mind of magic emerged from that mist.

Only one year his junior‚ Khuthala Mayosi took the massive congregation in Memorial Hall on upper campus back to the dusty streets of small villages in the Eastern Cape almost five decades ago.

There a tiny Bongani‚ aged only four‚ was already proving his mettle as someone who believed in the value of education.

“My mother could not find us one day‚” she smiled‚ “I was three then and he was four. As it turned out‚ he had taken me to school without her consent.”

The memorial service held for Professor Bongani Mayosi was opened with a moving song in memory of the professor that left some of those in attendance in tears on August 2 2018.

From then on‚ in a school system with Bongani and another sibling‚ they all sat in different parts of the school because of their ages while their mother stayed at home with the two babies.

“At age three‚ I couldn’t function unless Bongani was in my eye’s view‚” she said‚ “and so the school made a special arrangement.”

They kept a door open and placed the two siblings so that they could see each other.

“That’s how I started my schooling at age three‚” she said‚ “and mom was at home with the two babies so Bongani was teaching me how to be independent.”

But‚ she added with a smile‚ “he also used me as his guinea pig - and I had to learn all the mottos that he believed in‚” she said.

Before Khuthala’s speech‚ which illuminated a life beyond the halls of academia‚ the Deputy Minister of Health‚ Dr Mathume Phaahla‚ also shed light on the younger Bongani and how his mind was blossoming way ahead of its time when he first went into medical school.

“Anyone who has studied medicine will tell you - first year is a struggle after high school‚ second year is the killer.”

He said that medical students who survive those two years generally stick with it because it actually is easier after that. But not Bongani Mayosi.

“We thought he was mad because at that point‚ he broke away to do research!”

It was only after his cum laude BSc in Medicine that he came back. And thus laid the paths of two careers in one man’s life - a brilliant clinician‚ an equally as brilliant researcher. And then‚ so much more than those.

On a far sadder note‚ he described how he had seen Professor Mayosi on July 17 at the University of Stellenbosch at a graduation ceremony for some visiting students from Cuba.

“We had a short time to chat together but I was looking forward to chatting to him more during the lunch‚” he said‚ “but he was unable to attend that lunch. I didn’t think it a train smash then. I had no idea that was the last time I would see Bongani alive.”

He said that during the ululating at the graduation ceremony on the podium‚ he was sitting opposite Professor Mayosi and caught a quick glimpse of a man who was “not catching the excitement” but not knowing yet he wouldn’t be at the lunch‚ he thought to himself‚ “We will talk during the lunch.”

He compared the professor to the likes of Shakespeare‚ Bob Marley and Steve Jobs‚ saying that maybe a genius doesn’t live long.

“He could have been a millionaire many times over but he chose to serve the people‚ the poor communities‚” he said‚ ending off with a sad and simple‚ “Go well my brother.”

The vice-chancellor of the university‚ Mamokgethi Phakeng‚ called on the UCT community‚ united as it is in grief‚ to “follow Bongani’s example‚ to help one another‚ to heal from this tragedy.”

She said it was a “time of reflection” and that all‚ like Bongani‚ should strive to be the change that they want to see at the university.

The head of the department of medicine‚ Professor Ntobeko Ntusi‚ said that Professor Mayosi had “lived the lives of three people‚ and thought deeply about this world‚ and lived his life with a sense of urgency.”

He spoke of the countless young lives he had shaped by his inspiration and mentoring‚ but also how deeply loved he had been by his patients.

“They remember his gentle bedside manner‚” he said‚ also adding a picture of his close and loving relationship with his wife‚ and how he had constantly referred to his two daughters as “his pride and joy”.

Moses Isiyagi‚ speaking on behalf of the postgraduate students’ council‚ recalled how during a march to Parliament‚ the professor “did not walk ahead of us or behind us - but with us.”

He said they had learnt from him “principles and virtues of excellence” and had been witness to a compassionate soul who made it abundantly clear how much he loved his family.

For those who grew up with absent fathers‚ he became a role model in that way too.

“Last week‚ this wild flower faded away from us‚” he said‚ “He lived a life of purpose.”

In his honour‚ he said‚ we should all strive to “maximise our lives” in the footsteps of Professor Bongani Mayosi.

X