South Africa has lost a man with a “brilliant mind” and a “gentle soul”, according to the tributes that continued to pour in this week for UCT health dean and world-class cardiology researcher Professor Bongani Mayosi.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said she was devastated by the news of Professor’s Mayosi’s suicide on Friday.
“I am still reeling. We have visited the family to express our grief and offer condolences. On behalf of UCT, I extend heartfelt condolences to his wife, Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, daughters S’vuyile and Camagu and the rest of the family,” she said.
This week, the Faculty of Health Sciences suspended classes on Monday July 30 and Tuesday July 31, while examinations scheduled for this week were postponed.
Dr Reno Morar has since been appointed as acting dean of the faculty from Monday July 30 till Friday August 31.
Addressing the media on Sunday, Professor Phakeng said the university had known of Professor Mayosi’s battle with depression.
She said the #FeesMustFall protests of 2016 and 2017 had not been kind to him, and he had tendered his resignation to then vice-chancellor Max Price.
The professor had collapsed earlier this year because of a psychological attack.
“His office was occupied for about two weeks in 2016. He had to manage pressure coming from many different directions, including from staff and students. And some black students were angry with him.
“They called him names, like coconut or sell-out, when his intentions were really for the students’ best welfare,” she said.
Professor Phakeng said Professor Mayosi would be remembered for his scientific rigour and his dedication to improving public health.
“Last year, a research team led by him, made international headlines for identifying a new gene that is a major cause of sudden death by heart failure among young people and athletes.
“Professor Mayosi’s involvement in this research included spending 20 years monitoring a South African family that was affected by this disorder. This is a testimony to his tenacious pursuit of pioneering research that could help save lives,” she said.
Professor Mayosi was born on 28 January 1967 in Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape, and took up the position of dean in September 2016.
His A-rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF) counted him among the ranks of leading international researchers.
In 2017, he was elected to the US National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honours in the fields of health and medicine.
Dr Molapo Qhobela, CEO of the NRF, said Professor Mayosi never forgot the challenges he had to overcome, and had dedicated himself to mentoring and supporting students faced with similar challenges.
“South Africa has lost a brilliant mind, a kind and gentle soul and an advocate for the scientific research project who still had a lot to contribute. We, at the NRF, deeply mourn his passing as he was a true friend of our organisation and a champion of our mission,” he said.
On the news of his death, many took to the university’s Facebook page to share their condolences.
Tegan Child-Villiers said: “Terribly sad news. This is a massive loss not only for UCT, but healthcare globally. He was an inspirational man and will be sorely missed. I have no doubt his legacy will live on through all the students he positively influenced. Thank you, Prof Mayosi, for all you did for us. Rest In Peace.”
Bupe Leontina Mwamba wrote: “You have run a good race and you inspired many. May your soul rest in eternal peace, Professor. My heartfelt condolences to your family and the UCT community. This is a big blow to the health faculty and to the nation at large.”
Pakiso Netshidzivhani agreed that it was a loss for the health fraternity. “He was so committed to excellence in health research. Rest in peace, Professor Mayosi, you have run a good race and your legacy will live on.”
The professor will be buried on Saturday August 4.