Shock at beloved prof’s sudden death

He was a sensitive man, greatly affected by the plight of students in the wake of #FeesMustFall protests at the University of Cape Town.

So said university staff following the tragic news of their health sciences dean Professor Bongani Mayosi’s death on Friday. He was 51.

“He really cared about students, their problems and suffering. It had a great emotional effect on him,” said a member of staff at the health sciences faculty.

Condolences poured in from around the country at the weekend, venerating Mayosi as a role model and a top researcher with a formidable spirit. He had an exceptional A-rating with South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said yesterday she was in a state of shock and was devastated at the sudden death of Mayosi.

University colleague Stevan Bruijns, a senior lecturer at the division of emergency medicine, tweeted: “I feel like crying and not stopping. Prof Bongani Mayosi was the kindest, most gentle soul in medicine, a great leader and a brilliant dean.”

Mayosi was born in Mthatha in 1967 to George, a local district surgeon, and Nontle, a nurse. As a child he joined his father on rural trips to care for the sick, which inspired him to become a doctor. His research would focus on heart disease in poor communities.

“Poverty will break your heart,” he told City Press in an interview in 2015.

In a sad twist of fate, it is believed that he died from a heart attack.

Mayosi earned two medical degrees with distinction at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and worked as an intern at the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth before joining UCT in 1992. He earned a doctoral degree at the University of Oxford in the UK in 2003.

He leaves behind his wife professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo and their two daughters Vuyi and Gugu.

Mayosi and his family lived in Cape Town but enjoyed returning to Ngqamakhwe, the village of his youth, in the Eastern Cape’s Amathole district.

“When people speak of how rural folk are disadvantaged – well, I can’t relate to that,” he told City Press. “I had a magical youth spent making cattle from clay and playing outside. I enjoy taking my daughters back there.”

He credited his parents for his love of learning: “I owe a great debt to my parents for instilling in us a love of learning and to our mother, in particular, who suspended her own career as a nurse for 14 years to raise and educate her brood of five children.”

Yesterday the SA Heart Foundation posted: “We mourn the passing of a giant in our community Bongani Mayosi. His legacy is unfathomable. His contribution to science, to Africa and South Africa was immense. His amazing spirit, deep wisdom, courage and tenacity will be missed by all. Hamba kakuhle, Bongani.”