Reflections on suicide of Professor Bongani Mayosi, persecuted to death – Ed Herbst

EDINBURGH — The tragic death of Professor Bongani Mayosi has underscored several ugly truths about South Africa, starting with the uncomfortable reality that black racism towards others exists. Mayosi was allegedly called a coconut, like so many other black people who are too friendly to white people or too integrated into white communities. Also stark is that student protestors have been way out of control for a prolonged period, causing great harm to individuals as well as the education system in general. In this in-depth piece, independent journalist Ed Herbst reflects on circumstances around the death of Mayosi. He concludes that the contributory role played by students applies another layer of indelible taint to their already irremediably tainted record. – Jackie Cameron

By Ed Herbst*

Professor Bongani Mayosi’s soul was “vandalised” by #FeesMustFall protestors, his sister said at the cardiologist’s funeral yesterday.

Ncumisa Mayosi told more than 2000 mourners in Cape Town that the depression that led to her brother’s suicide nine days ago began when he became dean of health sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

“He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out”, she said. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about.” – #FeesMustFall to blame say Mayosi family Sunday Times 5/8/2018

#FeesMustFall to blame, say Mayosi family
#FeesMustFall to blame, say Mayosi family

The role of the #Fees Must Fall movement – described by Professor Jonathan Jansen as ‘fascist’ – in the death by his own hand of renowned cardiologist and Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty at the University of Cape Town, Professor Bongani Mayosi, has drawn widely-differing, indeed irreconcilable responses from two of UCT’s academics:

Addressing the media on Sunday, UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said Mayosi’s office was occupied for two weeks by protesting students in 2016.

“He went on three months’ leave and early this year collapsed because of a psychological attack. Protests in 2016/17 weren’t kind to him as a dean. Students were angry at him, called him a coconut – out of anger. He experienced pressure from staff, students and black students.”

Phakeng said UCT had seen a rise in mental health issues, not only among students but among staff, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the #FeesMustFall protests. – IOL 30/7/2018

The occupation of the Health Sciences deanery in 2016 marks, for me, a transformative moment in our history as a faculty. Seldom have I seen political protest unfold so spontaneously, so respectfully, so democratically, so beautifully as that particular protest did.

Having been lucky enough to be present in a few of those moments, I cannot recall an instance where Bongani Mayosi, the man, was disrespected, called names or denigrated in any way, though of course there may have been isolated instances of this. What I rather saw was principled political action to hold accountable the representatives of the structures of power in a flawed system. – Dr Lydia Cairncross Daily Maverick 31/7/2018

Jonathan Jansen sums up the persecution Mayosi suffered at the hands of the anarchic Fallist protestors:

‘We know Professor Mayosi struggled with depression in recent times. We also know that he suffered greatly when students occupied his offices during the fees protests, humiliating and insulting this gentleman to the extent that he had to take two months of leave to recover. He never did and was admitted to hospital recently as a result of psychological breakdown. That wonderfully broad smile was no longer there.

In Business Day on 6/5/2016, Simon Lincoln Reader asserted that:

‘RMF didn’t fail just because it was the most confusing, divisive and xenophobic campaign to have featured since 1994, but because it was executed by vile personalities.’

Dr Cairncross would seem to disagree with the Business Day columnist, but herewith a chronology in the history of the Fallist movement which, to me at least, does not manifest the beauty, the respect and the principled commitment to democracy which she attributes to them:

  • 9 March 2015 – Chumani Maxwele ignites the RMF/FMF campaign when he invites the Cape Times  but not Die Burger to photograph him hurling human excrement at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes on the campus of the University of Cape Town .
  • June 2015 – Showing the courtesy, couth and class which, if I understand Dr Lydia Cairncross correctly, characterise the Fallist approach, the words ‘Fuck Rhodes’ were spray-painted across the War Cenotaph at UCT which commemorates the university’s students who paid the ultimate sacrifice in two World Wars. The memorial was vandalised for a second time a few weeks later.
  • June 2015 – Dr Lydia Cairncross holds the Fallists in high regard and speaks highly of their allegedly principled behaviour. What, one wonders, does she think of the behaviour of one of the leading Fallists, Chumani Maxwele, who so threatened one of her colleagues at the university, a mathematics lecturer, that the university felt compelled to increase security to protect her?
  • November 2015 – Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled  commitment to democracy of which Dr Cairncross speaks, Fallist protestors invade an emergency senate meeting at UCT and when Vice-Chancellor Max Price  failed to accede to their demands, he was assaulted.
  • February 2016 – Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled  commitment to democracy of which Dr Cairncross speaks, Fallist arsonists torch paintings on the UCT campus and then go on to torch the Jammie Shuttle bus and a van belonging to the UCT conservation unit which is used to assist the poorest of the poor in the Northern Cape. Among the art works destroyed by the Fallists in their beautiful, respectful and principled promotion of democracy are five paintings by Richard Baholo, the first black student at UCT to be awarded an MA in Fine Art and two collages of images of Black Sash activist Molly Blackburn.
Veteran journalist Ed Herbst
Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

This behaviour by the Fallists – who have the support of Dr Lydia Cairncross – was then featured in The Economist which resulted, throughout the world, in enormous reputational damage to the university and the country.

Furthermore, one of the leading Fallists, Alexandra Hotz, was found by our courts to have brought petrol onto the campus as part of a plot to burn the university to the ground. The plot, as part of the Fallist’s ‘principled’ contribution to building democracy, included an incendiary device thrown into the office of VC, Dr Max Price, a heinous deed described by Jonathan Jansen as a classic example of fascist behaviour. How, one wonders, does Dr Lydia Cairncross describe such behaviour?

  • February 2016 – A Fallist, Slovo Magida, is photographed in a UCT dining hall wearing a T-shirt upon which the slogan Kill All Whites has been stencilled as yet another example of the beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy of which Dr Cairncross speaks. Magida later says he has no regrets.
  • April 2016 – African Hitler’ scholar gloats over race humiliation of waitress Politicsweb. Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled  commitment  to democracy of which Dr Cairncross speaks, one of the co-founders of the RMF movement, Ntokozo Qwabe, deliberately humiliated a waitress who was trying to earn money while caring for her terminally-ill mother. He publicly humiliated the waitress because she is white, a woman and, for financial reasons, found herself in a subordinate position to him. Strangely enough, this manifestation of misogyny, ethnic hatred and contempt for the working class did not find favour with the father of Ntokozo Qwabe. Strangely enough the public response to this ‘beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy’ was international outrage and the result was a crowd-funding campaign which raised R150 000 for her from donors all over the world. Continuing his beautiful, respectful and principled pursuit of democracy, Qwabe was one of a group of Fallists who disrupted the studies of law students preparing for exams and in this video clip, he is shown assaulting a fellow student with a stave which he termed his ‘cultural weapon’, before expressing the routine ethnic hatred which permeates the Fallist rhetoric. Nothing like this happened at UCT prior to the start of the glorious National Democratic Revolution in 1994.
  • April 2016 -Showing a beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy, one of the co-founders of the RMF movement, Chumani Maxwele, assaults a female student on the Wits University campus.
  • May 2016 – Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy of which Dr Cairncross speaks, Fallists raze the Sanlam Auditorium at the University of Johannesburg.
  • May 2016 – For some unfathomable reason Judge Roshini Allie does not agree with the contention by Dr Lydia Cairncross that Fallist behaviour is characterised by a beautiful and respectful commitment to democracy. In an excoriating judgement in the Cape High Court she condemns the Shackville protestors for their vandalism, physical and verbal abuse’.
  1. Applicant (UCT) alleged that twelfth respondent (Chumani Maxwele) was present when the bus was torched and he rolled drums into the road shortly before the bus was burned.
  2. Twelfth respondent denies this allegation but applicants rely on video footage to support its allegation.
  1. Students are entitled to protest within the boundaries of legal protest.

Destruction of University property, blocking access to and from the University, physical violence towards people who disagree with protests and express or implied threats to harm people by displaying words to that effect during protests clearly exceed those boundaries.

The description by Judge Allie of the Fallist behaviour as including vandalism, physical and verbal abuse’ is not congruent with the suggestion by Dr Lydia Cairncoss that the two-week occupation of Professor Bongani Mayosi’s office was characterised by ‘beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy’. Given the divergent views of Judge Allie and Dr Lydia Cairncross about the conduct of the Fallists, I am surprised that Cairncross did not publicly challenge the Allie ruling.

  • September 2016 – A Wits University employee dies after inhaling fire extinguisher fumes during a riot by Fallist thugs.
  • September 2016 – Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy of which Dr Lydia Cairncross speaks, Fallists set the law library at Howard College in Durban alight. I am not aware of Dr Cairncross publicly condemning this incident but, writing in Business Day, George Devenish, Emeritus professor at UKZN, and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the interim constitution in 1993, said that this wanton and senseless Fallist destruction reduced him to tears.
  • September 2016 – Showing the beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy of which Dr Lydia Cairncross speaks, a group of Fallists at the University of KZN beats a campus security guard to a bloody pulp leaving him critically injured. The photograph of the brutalised man in this article is telling.  If I understand Dr Cairncross correctly, people of that ilk would never have treated Professor Bongani Mayosi in an insulting way during the two weeks in which they deliberately prevented him from working by occupying his offices.
  • September 2016 – Journalists and photographers covering Fallist riots are attacked and racially abused in a manifestation of their alleged beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy.
  • October 2016 – Showing their alleged beautiful, respectful and principled commitment to democracy, the Fallists attempt to murder two security guards by locking them in a building which they had set alight. If Dr Cairncross criticised this evil in any way, or sought to distance herself from it, I can find no record of such concern. A fortnight later and as an encore, the Fallists attempted to murder a security guard during one of their riots at UCT. This was described in an official UCT media release:

The University of Cape Town confirms that two private security guards were brutally attacked on upper campus on 19 October 2016. One was beaten up by a group of protesters near the food court. The other had a rock dropped on his head from an upper storey of the Steve Biko Student’s Union building. It is reported that he is in hospital in a serious condition.

Initial reports on the incidents indicate that these attacks were unprovoked and deliberate but Campus Protection Services and the SA Police Service (SAPS) are investigating both incidents. Both security guards sustained significant injuries and had to be admitted to hospital. The SAPS is investigating charges of assault with the intention of doing grievous bodily harm.

  • October 2016 – In their allegedly respectful way – to which Dr Lydia Cairncross can attest – the Fallists flood the Wits University’s FNB computer lab and set a bus alight in the middle of Braamfontein.
  • October 2016 – In their allegedly respectful way – to which Dr Lydia Cairncross can attest – the Fallists assault Max Price for a second time.
  • October 2016 – In their allegedly respectful way – to which Dr Lydia Cairncross can attest – the Fallists strew faeces in UCT’s law and economics buildings.
  • October 2016 – The Supreme Court of Appeal sets out in detail how the Fallists, in their allegedly beautiful and respectful attempts to promote democracy, brought petrol onto the campus as part of their intention to burn the university to the ground and, in another manifestation of their innate couth and courtesy, vandalised the UCT war memorial and set paintings alight after stoning them. Dr Cairncross has not on accessible record shown she contested the findings of this court.
  • October 2016 – Prof Harro von Blottnitz‚ deputy head of the chemical engineering department at UCT lays charges against the Fallist disruptors who have intimidated his students and set off fire extinguishers to prevent the department from doing its work.
  • December 2016 – Dr Cairncross – who, remember, holds the Fallists in high regard – was present at the UCT Convocation AGM which had to be called off because of the disgracefully disruptive behaviour of the Fallists. A Google search provides no evidence that she condemned this behaviour but she does assure us that she was not aware of such behaviour being experienced during the fortnight in which the Fallists prevented Professor Bongani Mayosi from doing his work by occupying his offices.
  • April 2017 – The Constitutional Court becomes the third court – after the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Cape High Court – to find that the Fallists involved in the Shackville Protest were not motivated by the beautiful and respectful commitment to democracy to which Dr Lydia Cairncross attests. I can find no record which indicates that she has contested the findings of this court.
  • September 2017 – Not even places of worship are safe when it comes to the Fallist’s allegedly ‘beautiful and respectful’ attempts to promote democracy.
  • June 2018 – Jonathan Jansen declares the Fallist decision to ban white people from suppers at the UCT “decolonising” winter school as “racist, anti-democratic and unbefitting an open university. To restrict the suppers to “people of colour” is crass and offensive, and should be condemned out of hand. The winter school itself should be decolonised, if the word still has any meaning at all. We need a genuinely critical, left and progressive position in higher education; not this kind of racial backwardness.”

Do Dr Lydia Cairncross and Lorna Houston share Jansen’s outrage? If they do, I am not aware of them expressing it and a Google search does not help in that regard.

One of the main supporters and promoters of this FMF policy of racial segregation – so similar to what Rosa Parks experienced and to what Hendrik Verwoerd championed – is Alex Hotz who was found in three court judgments to have brought petrol onto the campus with the intention of starting fires.

Viciously criminal behaviour

Only three people, Dr Tim Crowe, Prof David Benatar and Sara Gon, have consistently and publicly condemned the brutally uncouth and viciously criminal behaviour of the hatred-driven Fallist lawbreakers. This behaviour has included attempted murder, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, arson, theft, misogyny, the desecration of a memorial to those who died in battle in defence of their country, of constant attempts to ramp up racial tensions through the divisive expression of ethnic hatred and racially-provocative slogans, intimidation of journalists and photographers, trespass, the strewing of faeces, widespread disruption of academic and urban life and infrastructure and property damage which will cost more than a billion rand to repair – but all this, you understand,  happened in in the context of a ‘beautiful, respectful and principled promotion of democracy’, judging by what I glean from the Daily Maverick article by Dr Lydia Cairncross which was posted on 31 July.

In her article Cairncross blames the following contributory factors which, in her opinion, led to the death of Professor Bongani Mayosi:

  • His employer, the University of Cape Town
  • Our ‘pathological work culture’
  • ‘Overt and covert racism at UCT and in our society’
  • The capitalist system
  • Our uncaring social system

There is no mention in this list of the role played by the Fallists in the fortnight during which Professor Mayosi was prevented by them from doing his work, a fortnight in which he was exposed to humiliation and insult including slurs such as ‘coconut’ and ‘sell out’ by a group which has been found by three tiers of our court system to be bereft of grace and charity and quite willing to exceed the bounds of civilised behaviour and the law. To what can this glaring omission be attributed?

In a letter to her late husband which was read out at his funeral, Professor Bongani Mayosi’s widow, Nonhlanhla Khumalo, described the contributory role in his untimely death played by the #FMF members who occupied his offices – a view which accords with that of her late husband’s colleague, the recently-elected UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng:

“During the protests, students sent a list of demands and messages on your private cellphone at all hours. You cared so deeply for the people who now treated you as the enemy.”

In his Sunday Times obituary, Chris Barron wrote:

…it was tragically ironic that #FeesMustFall protestors occupied his office for two weeks after he was appointed dean of the faculty in 2016 and hurled insults at him calling him a “coconut” and a “sellout”.

The ordeal left him shattered. He had a nervous breakdown and had to take time off to recover, but never quite did.

Barron’s statements and those of Nonhlanhla Khumalo, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and Jonathan Jansen, are irreconcilable with the polar opposite views expressed by Dr Lydia Cairncross in her Daily Maverick article and I believe it is incumbent upon her to set the record straight.

My personal and subjective perception is that in her Daily Maverick article Cairncross sought to pre-emptively downplay the outrage which would inevitably ensue once the truth became known about the role played by the thuggish #FMF students in Mayosi’s suicide. How does one reconcile this with the oath she took upon graduating as a medical doctor?

Is some sort of atonement not called for in this case?

UCT has agreed to hold an official inquiry into the death of Professor Mayosi so more evidence will come to the fore about his final days.

Whatever the outcome, the contributory role played by the FMF movement in the suicide of Professor Bongani Mayosi applies another layer of indelible taint to its already irremediably tainted record.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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