UCT academics call for inquiry into Professor Mayosi's death

Members of the University of Cape Town's (UCT) black academic caucus have called for an in-depth inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of top cardiologist and former health sciences dean Professor Bongani Mayosi.

Mayosi's family revealed in a statement shortly after his death on Friday that he had committed suicide following a long struggle with depression. He was 51.

READ: Family devastated by death of Prof Bongani Mayosi, says he struggled with depression

Some of Mayosi's colleagues on Friday expressed their dismay at how the discourse immediately following his death was playing out.

"We, the black staff of the University of Cape Town are deeply concerned with the manner in which the circumstances that precipitated Professor Mayosi's tragic fate on July 27 have been handled following the announcement by the family that he 'took his own life'," a statement from the UCT black academic caucus read.

"In their statement, the Mayosi family had clearly indicated that they were 'struggling to come to terms with this devastating loss' and specifically asked that we should 'understand our need for privacy during this difficult time'.

"We thus feel strongly that the mudslinging we have been witnessing over the last few days is premature and not in keeping with the expressed wishes of the Mayosi family.

'Black staff, students must be consulted'

"This period up to the burial of Professor Mayosi on August 4 should be devoted to mourning and celebrating his life."

Earlier this week, UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Mayosi had been deeply affected by insulting comments during the occupation of his office by Fees Must Fall protesters in 2015. However, former Fees Must Fall leader Chumani Maxwele laid the blame at the doorstep of the university.

READ MORE: He was called names 'like coconut or sell-out' - UCT VC on Professor Mayosi and #FeesMustFall

The black academic caucus proposed that the university's council set up an inquiry as soon as possible following Mayosi's funeral to allow for a thorough investigation.

"We further propose that this inquiry must be set up in consultation with especially black staff and students, who have on various occasions expressed their experiences of being marginalised at UCT.

"It is our view that an understanding of the working conditions in institutions such as UCT is key to such an inquiry. It is hard for us to exclude the UCT working environment from the tragic death of our colleague, and indeed others, including students."

The group proposed that the process be transparent and all record and archives pertinent to the probe be made available.

"This applies specifically to all the correspondence and reports from the period students are alleged to have occupied Professor Mayosi's office in 2016 to the day he passed away."

Special provincial official funeral

It was their view that the results of the inquiry would not only help everyone understand the circumstances of Mayosi's death, but would also contribute to identifying precisely "what it is that is wrong with the UCT structures and how these could be addressed to the benefit of especially the historically and currently marginalised groups, predominantly blacks".

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday declared that a special provincial official funeral would be held for Mayosi.

The country's flag would also be flown at half-mast in the Western Cape on the day of his funeral, expected to be on Saturday. More details will be communicated by the Western Cape government.

The university held a memorial for Mayosi on Thursday.

Phakeng told mourners that Mayosi was the embodiment of "black excellence", and understood the struggles of Africans "first-hand".

Professor Mayosi was the dean of the faculty of health sciences at UCT at the time of his death, an A-rated National Research Foundation researcher and one of the country's top cardiologists.

He is survived by his wife Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo and his two daughters.