UCT must take responsibility for Prof Mayosi's death – former Fees Must Fall leader

Former Fees Must Fall leader Chumani Maxwele has insisted that the University of Cape Town (UCT) take full responsibility for the death of dean of health sciences Professor Bongani Mayosi, saying Mayosi was a keen supporter of the student protests.

The accomplished academic, who suffered from depression, died from suicide at the age of 51 on Friday.

Maxwele put the blame firmly on the doorstep of UCT after vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng held a press briefing on Sunday where she said the Fees Must Fall protests had caused a lot of trauma at the university – something that both staff and students were still reeling from.

On Tuesday, she clarified her remarks and said she in no way meant that the protests were to blame for Mayosi's death. She said while the protests "were not wrong", they were "not kind" to Mayosi. 

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

She said his office was occupied for about two weeks during the protests 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 sellout, when his intentions were really for the students' best welfare," she said in a statement.

'Why would he join us if he was offended?'

But Maxwele on Tuesday disputed this, saying Mayosi was a keen supporter of the Fees Must Fall movement and had joined them in their protest.

"There are allegations that he was called a sellout or coconut. Firstly, many black academics were called names during the protests, but they understood the students and continued to guide them," he said.

"Secondly, there is no way that a senior black academic would be offended by this name-calling. Why would he protest with us during Fees Must Fall? He joined us at Parliament in 2016 – why would he join us if he was offended?"

Maxwele went on to allege that the university had rejected Mayosi's attempt to leave the institution because "it would look bad if a senior black academic resigned". 

He claimed that Mayosi had been constantly undermined by his colleagues during his tenure as dean.

"Professor Mayosi had a very sharp mind and he was called incompetent by his white colleagues. Every position that he wanted to take was reversed. How could he lead people who didn't trust him?" he said.

Phakeng 'misread political situation'

UCT released Mayosi's resignation letter, dated November 3, 2017, to the media on Sunday.

The letter read: "I have decided to resign my position as dean of the faculty of health sciences. I believe that the faculty deserves better leadership than I have been able to provide over the past year. I am sorry to do this in the middle of a crisis."

Maxwele also hit out at Phakeng, saying she had misread the political situation on campus during the protests.

Hundreds of students paid their respects to Mayosi at an informal memorial service and vigil at the university on Monday.

Mayosi was remembered as a strong leader and a source of inspiration to all who knew him.

A formal memorial service will take place on Thursday.

More on Health24: What to do and say when someone wants to commit suicide

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