Leaders pay tribute to Tobias

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Former president Thabo Mbeki leads the funeral procession for world-renowned palaeoanthropologist Phillip Tobias, at West Park Cemetery. Photo: Antoine de Ras

An outstanding mind, a visionary and a stalwart of the Struggle.

This is how Professor Phillip Tobias was described by friends and colleagues at his funeral in Joburg on Sunday.

Held at West Park Cemetery, mourners were led by former president Thabo Mbeki and was attended by Artists Against Apartheid co-founder Dali Tambo, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, among others.

Mbeki said Tobias had an outstanding mind and was “central in making the statement that humanity originated in the continent”.

Mbeki said that apart from teaching students at Wits in the fields of medicine and palaeoanthropology, Tobias had also taught “all of us about what it is to be a human being and how to use the human mind properly”.

He said the legacy Tobias had left behind was “too important and too durable to be forgotten”.

Political veteran and Rivonia trial accused Ahmed Kathrada said that apart from his academic contribution, Tobias would be remembered as “a stalwart in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa”.

Kathrada added: “In the worst of times, the professor did not hold back on his views… he was outspoken and never faltered. We’ll remember him as a freedom fighter, a great human being.”

Veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos recalled the days when the two were students at Wits University. Bizos said Tobias had “cried from the rooftop” against injustices towards students.

“He led by example as a student leader and we followed him,” said Bizos.

Former United Cricket Board managing director Ali Bacher said Tobias had been a passionate cricketer who was well known at the Kingsmead and Wanderers stadiums.

Bacher added that Tobias had also been well known for his long speeches, which were “second to (IFP president) Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s”.

“People would slip notes to him while he was speaking, saying it’s time for him to cut his speech,” Bacher recalled.

Professor Beverley Kramer, who worked with Tobias at Wits, said she’d remember his keen interest in and love of language.

Tobias, aged 86, died at the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre on Thursday after a long illness.

nontobeko.mtshali@inl.co.za

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