University of Cape Town cardiologist Professor Bongani Mayosi, who committed suicide on Friday, tried to resign twice since 2016, but was not released by the institution, says UCT vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng.
In a conversation with Cape Talk radio station on Monday night, Phakeng revealed the former dean of health science at the institution started suffering from depression during the 2016 Fees Must Fall protests.
“In times of conflict, a lot of things happen, a lot of things go wrong. We can take 2016/2017 lightly. I’m not saying students are to blame – students themselves were traumatised. Oftentimes we think it’s only students; the staff themselves were traumatised, and the things we say to one another during conflict are not desirable.
“That’s not to say the struggle is wrong, but there are human beings around you, some of them did not even design the system, and yet they have to suffer. That situation was pretty tough for many people,” she said.
Phakeng said tertiary institutions were no longer safe spaces for ideas, as those who opposed certain views were perceived as the “enemy”.
She revealed that during the Fees Must Fall protests, the deceased was called “a coconut, a sellout”.
He was the middleman between the students and staff during the protests.
“People would say during a struggle there would be casualties, and I understand there would be casualties, but right now, what’s happened is calling on us to reflect on what are those casualties – why did they happen?
“Mayosi tried to resign twice. He tried end of 2016 beginning of 2017, he tried again in November, he wrote to Dr [Max] Price, who was the VC at the time, saying he can’t do this, and of course, we’ve got to ask why was he not released.
“He got depression. He was not at work for three months. He wanted to stop being a dean. We failed him as management. We could have left him to go when he asked,” she said.
Asked why Mayosi was not allowed to resign, Phakeng said the answer she had received so far was that “it would not look good for a black dean to resign”. She said she was still waiting for a full report on why he was not allowed to quit.
Phakeng also said UCT could be brutal for both academics and students.
“The institution we work for can be brutal. I, myself, have tablets in my bag. I started taking anxiety and depression tablets during the recruitment process. It was nasty in the corridors, you get called names, people say you are strong, they throw things at you. They started saying my qualifications were fake and I must be investigated.
“I’m not taking pills every day, but I have them in my bag. During that recruitment process, I was taking them every day. There are so many people who are hurting in the institution, people have started drinking too much, others got divorced because they are no longer the same,” she said.
Phakeng was appointed as the UCT vice-chancellor in March 2018.