Did student protests contribute to UCT professor's suicide?
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Cape Town - #FeesMustFall protests may have contributed to the death of UCT health dean and world-class cardiology researcher Professor Bongani Mayosi.
Mayosi, 51, committed suicide on Friday.
Addressing the media on Sunday, UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Mayosi’s office was occupied for two weeks by protesting students in 2016.
“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.”
She said the university was aware that Mayosi was suffering from depression.
Phakeng said Mayosi tendered his resignation to then vice-chancellor Max Price in November.
“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 the university should have rather had him leave the dean’s office and go back to his professorship.
Phakeng said UCT had seen a rise in mental health issues, not only among students but among staff, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the #FeesMustFall protests.
UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng addressed the media on Sunday. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
UCT students embarked on a series of #FeesMustFall protests from 2015 to 2017, demanding free education and transformation.
“This is a moment for us to reflect that when we pursue our own struggles, we be cautious that we’re dealing with human beings and can affect them in undesirable ways,” Phakeng said. “Be conscious. The idea is not to destroy people, whether they are against or for the protest. It shouldn’t be destructive conflict.”
She said the university had lost an A-rated world leader in cardiology as well as a leading scholar.
“We have lost someone whose voice was important at critical times, someone who never spoke much at Senate, but when he did, people listened. He had an important voice at management level.”
Mayosi will be buried on Saturday. The university is yet to announce a date for the memorial service this week.
He leaves his widow Nonhlanhla Khumalo and two daughters.
#FeesMustFall activist Chumani Maxwele said he respected Phakeng’s opinion but believed “the university killed Mayosi and seven other black students who committed suicide last year”.
“The biggest silent killer is the work environment for black academics at the institution, not him being called a coconut. Anyone who knew Mayosi knew his best work was at the lab.
“He at the time was the only senior academic, hence we pushed that he be elevated to a leading role in the institution. He was the most supportive academic, why would he be offended by students for whom he showed understanding?”