#FeesMustFall to blame for Bongani Mayosi's death, say family
Ncumisa Mayosi told mourners that the depression that led to her brother's suicide began when he became dean of health sciences at UCT
Professor Bongani Mayosi's soul was "vandalised" by #FeesMustFall protesters, his sister said at the cardiologist's funeral on Saturday.
Ncumisa Mayosi told more than 2,000 mourners in Cape Town that the depression that led to her brother's suicide nine days ago began when he became dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
"He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out," she said. "The vitriolic nature of the students and their do-or-die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about."Soon after this, while on sick leave, he confided to their mother that he felt an increasing sense of "isolation from his colleagues" and a lack of support from the university and faculty.
"He resigned not once but twice, and on both occasions his resignation was not accepted and he was prevailed upon to carry on," Ncumisa said.
Mayosi's widow, Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, wrote a letter to her late husband, which was read out at the funeral by her friend, Khanyisa Vokwana. It said: "During the protests, students sent a list of demands and messages to your private cellphone at all hours. You cared so deeply for people who now treated you as the enemy."
Sipho Pityana, chair of the UCT council, said he "kept waking up in the middle of the night" and asking himself about the university's culpability in Mayosi's suicide.
"Have we become such mindless transformation zealots that we are no longer mindful of the health and wellbeing of those in the halls of academia? Have we become so bloody-minded in our positions that we fail to act with empathy and kindness?" he asked mourners at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane said the world sometimes did not accept positive traits like Mayosi's "wisdom, insight, intelligence, gentleness and truth . instead it embraces hatred, violence, roughness of speech and harsh actions".
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) president Professor Glenda Gray told the Sunday Times that the last time she met Mayosi he seemed sad, as if "the hope had gone".He was to meet her and the chair of the SAMRC board to talk about taking over from Gray. "We all knew he wasn't himself but we thought it was a chronic problem, not an acute one," she said.Professor Helmuth Reuter of Stellenbosch University, who like Mayosi specialised in heart diseases affecting the poor, noticed he was different when they last met.
"There was a clear change from the person I knew, who was always smiling, with a good sense of humour and effusive friendliness. He was taking strain and spoke about stresses linked to #FeesMustFall. He was hurt but he still had vigour."
Before Fallist leaders occupied his office in 2016, Mayosi had marched in his academic gown in support of them.
Many leaders in higher education got caught in the #FeesMustFall crossfire and a significant number have stepped down.
Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits University, said: "If you were a higher education manager you would be caught in a pincer movement, and if you were a black manager, you were burdened even more."Student leaders reserved their most severe criticism for black academics who did not deliver what they expected, said Habib, who is on sabbatical.
"When you couldn't deliver, you were called a coconut, a sellout, and there was racialised rhetoric."
Max Price, who was UCT vice-chancellor throughout the #FeesMustFall protests and attended Saturday's funeral, said Mayosi's death "is a tragic and terrible loss for UCT, the country and medicine globally".
He declined to comment on reports that Mayosi had wished to resign as dean.