UCT professor Bongani Mayosi hailed as a dedicated man, as friends and family say goodbye
Over two thousand people paid their final respects to the dean of UCT's faculty of health sciences, Professor Bongani Mayosi, who took his own life during a battle with depression on Friday, July 27.
A world-renowned cardiologist, 51-year-old Mayosi was granted a Special Provincial Funeral on the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa, with the service held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Mayosi's death triggered an outpouring of tributes from around the world, and the country's flag was flown at half-mast on Saturday in the Western Cape out of respect for a man who had made so many positive contributions to his country.
Speaker after speaker took to the podium and spoke of a man who was dedicated to his profession, an academic, leader and visionary, as well as a dedicated family man.
These included childhood friend Dr Fundile Nyati; Groote Schuur Hospital CEO Dr Bhavna Patel; UCT head of medicine Professor Ntobeko Ntusi; chairperson of the UCT council Sipho Pityana; UCT paediatric cardiologist Liesl Zuhlke; UCT head of cardiology Professor Mpiko Ntsekhe; and British cardiologist Professor Hugh Watkins‚ who works at the universities of Oxford and Harvard.
His sister, Ncumisa, spoke of Mayosi's funny, contagious laughter and easy smile and about his jovial nature and love for teaching. "My brother was a giant. He may have been short, but he was a giant of the best kind," she said.
She said the family asked themselves what they had missed and what they could have done to better support him. She said her brother’s “psychological decline, his loss in his belief in his own capabilities, and his depression, began when he assumed the position of dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town. He started in about September 2016 and his assumption of the position coincided with the onset of the Fees Must Fall movement, and the protests associated with the movement in 2016. So hardly two weeks after he had assumed the position protests broke out.
“The vitriolic character of state engagements tore him apart”, she told the service. “The abrasive, do-or-die, scorched earth approach adopted by students in navigating what was a legitimate cause, completely vandalised Bongani’s soul. Put simply, this unravelled him. To be clear, Bongani believed in the students cause. But the personal insults and abuse that were hurled at him without any justification whatsoever, this cut him to the core. This manner of engaging was inimical to everything Bongani was about.”
“It was offensive to his core values, how he had lived his life up until that point, his vision as a leader. And so he became withdrawn. His personality changed. He spoke less. To his mother he spoke of the isolation he felt from his colleagues. A lack of support, both from the faculty, and to those to whom he reported. He experienced two breakdowns in 2017. He resigned, we are told, twice, we are only aware of the one, in 2017, from his position. On both occasions his resignation was not accepted by the university and he was prevailed upon to remain upon in his position.”
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said he had been reading a lot of stories about Mayosi and his involvement at the University of Cape Town since becoming dean.
"It was painful to me that some called him a coconut and a sell-out, while others on the opposing spectrum said he was reckless in his position of leadership, for listening to students and even marching with them.
"I am here to tell you today that the Bongani I know was none of those," he said.
Motsoaledi said he had approached Mayosi to head up the Medical Research Council, but the professor had turned him down.
"He looked at me and said, minister, you have two choices, either I come over, or I stay at UCT and continue to help produce many more black graduates.
"He looked me straight in the eye and said, please understand, if I leave UCT, many black students won't graduate."
Cape Town mayor, Mayor Patricia de Lille also extended her heartfelt condolences to the family.
"It is indeed a great loss for our country. He was well known in many circles, and he will be remembered as someone who cared deeply for the poor.
"This immediately struck me when I met him two years ago. He told me he would like to work with the City of Cape Town, especially in the poorer areas," she said.
Mayosi was cremated.
News24 (additional reporting by Politicsweb)