Activists ‘vindicated’ by report after UCT Professor Bongani Mayosi's death

Professor Bongani Mayosi Picture: Facebook

Professor Bongani Mayosi Picture: Facebook

Published Jun 24, 2020


UCT #FeesMustFall activists have demanded an apology from the institution after a report into the circumstances leading to the death of renowned cardiologist Professor Bongani Mayosi “vindicated them”.

Mayosi’s death had been associated with student protests.

The UCT Health Sciences faculty dean ended his own life in 2018 after battling depression.

His death shocked the country, and newly appointed vice-chancellor at the time, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng spoke of the pressures on Mayosi, saying: “We know that the protests of 2016 and 2017 were not kind to him as dean. His office was occupied in 2016.

“There was a time when students were angry with him; they called him names, they called him a coconut, a sell-out, in anger, and that was hurtful. 

"Mayosi experienced pressure at some stages from staff and students... black students. He had to manage all of that.”

She said some reports that gave the impression she blamed Mayosi’s death on the protests were not true and the protests were not kind to anyone at UCT.

“I know how much Professor Mayosi loved UCT and the students here. He is the reason I applied for the position of vice-chancellor,” Phakeng said.

UCT established an independent panel to review the issues raised in regard to Mayosi’s death.

The report was completed last week and a time line of events, from Mayosi’s appointment as dean to his death.

In the report, the panel, consisting of Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo, Dr Somadoda Fikeni, Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and Nomfundo Walaza found “the university’s response to Professor Mayosi’s passing was, on the whole, poor, fragmented and, on occasion, ill-considered”.

“The public statements that were made and widely reported in the media, especially the accusation that the tragedy was directly attributable to the student protests, are regrettable and overly simplistic, as the matter was much more complex.

“These statements divided the university community and led to heightened levels of anxiety among students and staff at a time when they should have had the opportunity to mourn together as a community.”

The panel said the university should have had a more refined policy and strategy of crisis communication, following widely publicised and fierce student protests at UCT since 2015.

“That Professor Mayosi could go through a period of mental ‘unwellness’ and be known by many people to be so afflicted, without the matter formally reaching the executive leadership is problematic.

“It is especially concerning that it was not detected in a faculty of specialists in the health sciences.

“While there is enough information that he was adept at putting up a brave front, there is also abundant evidence that, at some point, his unwellness was evident and openly discussed, which makes the failure to take decisive action all the more concerning.”

The panel’s recommendations include: a compulsory immersion programme in diversity sensitivity, effective crisis management, a crisis communication strategy, support for the Faculty of Health Sciences and its leadership and the memorialisation and preservation of Mayosi’s legacy, among others.

Former #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall activist Chumani Maxwele said: “We are feeling happy that the students are exonerated by the very report of the university.

“The commissioners were clear that the university mishandled the communication about his death, and part of that was the blaming of students. And for us, we maintained that there is no black professor that can die as a result of being called names. 

"Now that the inquiry exonerated students, they can apologise for accusing them, particularly black students, of contributing to his death while hiding the racists in health sciences. 

"The commission itself said there was something wrong about the communication that was accusing students. We call on them to apologise to the student body.”

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the council had tasked the executive with putting a framework in place to implement the recommendations. 

“Council has tasked the executive with putting a framework in place to implement the recommendations, which the executive will begin immediately.”

Cape Times

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