On Friday, the University of Cape Town announced that they were in the process of an inquiry into the death of the dean of health sciences Professor Bongani Mayosi. Mayosi had died of suicide at the end of July. His death was met with a lot of shock from the university and wider medical community. The Daily Vox team takes a closer look at the details of the enquiry.
UPDATE (June 26 2020): The BAC said they welcomed the release of the report into the death of Professor Mayosi.
Secretary of the BAC, Mapheyeledi Motimele told The Daily Vox in an interview that: “For us it’s not necessary about the outcomes, it’s about the process [..] We need to figure out what are the existing process within UCT that allow for such a thing to happen and so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Motimele says they are demanding an enquiry because they wanted a clear and transparent process with an external body who will consult with students and staff. She says the university can’t investigate themselves which is why they called for an enquiry.
Motimele says there is needs to be an admittance that there is a problem and there needs to be a cultural and structural change, not just a changing of the numbers by hiring more black staff.
“The whole point of transformation is to look at outside of institutional racism is to look at staff-and-student relationships and to consider that the protests were such a hectic time for the university we are still sorting through those issues now,” said Motimele. She says the worst thing is to assign blame.
“We would have appreciated more of a supportive space outside of the memorial spaces […] we would have liked the university to stop and say what has happened […] We were basically on suicide watch for that week.”
The university agreed to institute the enquiry as the Black Academic Caucus (BAC) at UCT as well the Concerned UCT Staff released a statement on August 2. They called on the university to set up the enquiry as they wanted “a thorough investigation of the circumstances leading to Professor Mayosi’s decision to terminated his life.” There was also a proposal from the group that the “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”.
[JOINT STATEMENT] By Concerned UCT Staff and The UCT Black Academic Caucus, calling for an Inquiry into the events leading up to the death of Prof Bongani Mayosi, Dean of UCT Health Sciences. Please circulate. pic.twitter.com/7VHXZ5RX4y
â€” Black Academic Caucus (@BAC_uct) August 3, 2018
Shortly after hearing of the passing of Professor Bongani Mayosi, the UCT vice chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng initiated an inquiry into his death.
Regarding the specific details of the enquiry and who will be leading, the university said they will only be able to provide those details at a later stage.
During the special memorial service held on Thursday, Professor Phakeng said: “That is what I am asking UCT as a community to reflect on, to commit to. And in those moments of reflection, whether silent or spoken, we emulate Professor Mayosi – that we do so with dignity, compassion, integrity, and honesty. In that way, we can be his memorial at UCT and his gift to the world.”
The group said that key to the inquiry would be “an understanding of the working conditions in institutions such as UCT.” They also said the entire process should be transparent and all records from the investigation should be made public.
The enquiry comes in light of the blame game that took place after Mayosiâ€™s death. Several of his family members as well as the vice-chancellor, Phakeng made statements in the days after his death saying it was the 2016 Fees Must Fall movement that were a cause of his death.
Mayosi has been suffering from depression prior to his death. During a press conference, Phakeng said it was the name calling by members of the movement which had caused him a great deal of suffering.
In their statement, the Black Academic Caucus and Concerned UCT Staff criticised the undermining of the wishes of the Professor’s family. They said the family had clearly asked for privacy during this period as they were struggling to come to terms with the loss. The caucus said the mudslinging which has been happening over the past few days is not in line with the family’s wishes.
In concluding their statement, the Concerned UCT Staff and UCT Black Academic Caucus said “it is our firm view that the results of this inquiry will not only help us understand the circumstances leading to passing away of Prof Mayosi. Its results will make a huge contribution to identifying in fairly precise terms what it is that is wrong with UCT structures and how these would be addressed to the benefit of especially the historically and currently marginalised groups, predominantly, blacks.”
Speaking to The Daily Vox, several Fallists from UCT said they thought the university handled the situation very irresponsibly and that they felt like the VC was attacking the students personally.
“Do they understand the amount of trauma we as students have been facing by the university? Do they think we have not been depressed at being shot at these campuses that we come to to get an education? We are all depressed. It’s so unfortunate that the Professor lost the battle to depression. Students who are suicidal as it is are going through the most. There are students like myself who have lost parents to suicide. I just wish the university had dealt with this with as much sensitivity as it deserved,”
Following from the events surrounding Prof. Mayosi’s death, UCT released a statement saying they take student mental health concerns very seriously and as a result promotes and communicates about the work of the Student Wellness Services. The university has urged students suffering mental health difficulties to seek help early and not to wait. They also said: “UCT is of the view that more can always be done to support students experiencing mental health challenges,” They said they will continue to do more to strengthen the support offered on mental health.
Speaking at Professor Mayosi’s funeral, his brother Sipho Mayosi said: “I will be failing myself and the entire family if I don’t say this, without fear or favour: that I hope and wish and in the same breath, demand, that UCT heed the call made by the BAC to investigate the death and leave no stone unturned on the circumstances surrounding the death of my brother, so that we may have closure.
“Otherwise, his legacy would be in vain.”
Featured Image via Flickr
Author’s note: The story has been updated with comment from the Black Academic Caucus.