NEWS & ANALYSIS

UCT killed Professor Mayosi

Chumani Maxwele calls for the university to disclose all correspondence relating to the dean's rebuffed efforts to resign

Professor Bongani Mayosi’s passing away comes as a huge surprise to us, as student activists. We are completely paralyzed by his passing away. 

Like many others, I had a meeting with Prof Mayosi on political questions at UCT more so on the question of transformation and decolonization of our university, UCT. 

In my last meeting with him he seemed fine with his ever-present smile and thus expressed a sense of deeply concerned about me given my political struggles at the university. He wanted to know the primary demands of the students in relation to #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall

I told him and thus we discussed at length issues of transformation and decolonization and what he was doing at his department and faculty. He gave me a book about the work that he has been doing with his colleagues on transformation in his department. 

For the past three years, I have been meeting with senior Black academics for many reasons more so on political questions of transformation and decolonization at UCT. And Prof Mayosi was one of those Black academics. Almost all Black academics I have met they expressed a sense of loss of hope and they felt a sense of powerlessness and sense of isolation. 

Professor Bangani Mayosi is killed by the University of Cape Town. 

We must read his passing away very closely and within a particular context. Now that we know that UCT received two resignation letters from Professor Mayiso and at both times they refused him to go back to his medicine division. What were his reasoning for resigning? What was UCT’s reasons for refusing to let him go? Why did UCT management refuse Prof Mayosi’s resignation? Where are his letters of resignation? If UCT knew that Prof Mayosi was facing difficulties, what remedial actions did the university take to tranquilize his predicament?

It is not enough for the current UCT VC Prof Phakeng, whom was part of the Senior Management Leadership with the former VC Dr. Price at the time of Prof Mayosi’s resignation, to reiterate that the reason why UCT turned down Prof Mayosi’s resignation was because it would not have “…looked good for a Black Dean to resign…”.

This means that UCT management cared more about the so-called “good name” of the university as opposed to Prof Mayosi’s wellbeing. Why then blame student activists at health sciences? Prof Phakeng is on good record saying “…UCT failed Prof Mayosi…” and thus in many ways this means that UCT killed Prof Mayosi and concurring with our position that indeed UCT killed Prof Mayosi by effectively refusing his resignation letters.

Now that #FeesMustFall great names has been dragged to The Mayosi Affair we demand a full disclosure, in the spirit of “openness and healing”, of the correspondence of Prof Mayosi and the university, that is, senior management include the former VC Dr. Price response to Prof Mayosi’s strong desire resign. This disclosure must include letters, e-mails and minutes of meetings in relation to his request to resign from Deanery of Faculty of Health Science.

It must be said that the notion that #FeesMustFall “…student activist at Health Sciences called Prof Mayosi a coconut and a sellout…” is not of itself a new phenomenon within student political movements and thus it is not an isolated incident in of itself. There are many Black academics and students who have been called names by the student activists in the heat of political debates.

Prof Mangcu and Prof Ramugondo were both called coconuts and sellouts and they both understood Black students’, whom are their own children, hurting challenges at the university like Prof Mayosi, Prof Mangcu and Prof Ramugondo continued to work with students to this day.

Therefore, the idea that students “…at health science might have contributed to Prof Mayosi’s passing…” through their name-calling him is neither here nor there given the fact that there are so many other Black Professors that have been called names. It must be noted the fact that after the so-called name-calling, which is said to have happened once in a single meeting, Prof Mayosi led the students (in which he is shown in a now famous photo and video) in protest mass action to Azania House (Administration Building at UCT) and later Prof Mayosi joined the student activists in their protest mass action to South African Parliament.

All this shows that Prof Mayosi was reconciled with those that it is alleged to have called him names. This shows the similar trend as other Black Professors who have been called names before who then went on to work with students activists with an understanding that it is just students who are angry. It must be noted that both Prof Mayosi’s daughters were at UCT’s Health Sciences and part of #FeesMustFall student movement like any other Black students at UCT within a White dominated and racist medical school. And like the daughter of Prof Mangcu was at UCT during #FeesMustFall. Could it be that even their daughters would call their fathers names just to hurt them?

Equally, the notion that Prof Mayosi’s office was occupied by students and thus this too “…might have contributed to Prof Mayosi’s passing…” does not hold water due to the fact that the Official Administration Building of UCT was occupied and subsequently shut-downed by student activists for over month and this led to the closure of the entire university for over three weeks or so. So, how can a mire office becomes an issue when the whole university was closed-down due to the post-democratic revolutionary student movement of our times that brought about free education in our life time that is decolonized and de-commodified.

The real issue here is that Prof Mayosi was called “incompetent” by White people who were supposed to take his instructions on decolonization and transformation of Health Sciences and more so the medical school and implement them. White people at Health Sciences did not trust nor have faith neither supported Prof Mayosi’s vision of transforming and decolonizing health sciences. Therefore, Prof Mayosi was racially discriminated by White people and questioned on the basis of his Blackness. It is a well-known reality that Health Sciences at UCT is racially polarized.

Professor Mayosi’s passing away comes after more than four Black UCT students killed themselves just last year alone. And we knew that the university killed them. It is a well-known reality that UCT environment is not friendly to Black people. 

It must be said that Prof Mayosi worked in the most hostile environment and this is Health Sciences at UCT. This faculty is dominated by old White people largely from the apartheid regime. And it is the least transformed faculty at UCT.

The 2015 and 2016 student political protest did not make it easy for this White old apartheid establishment and thus we actively lobbied for Professor Mayosi to take over the leadership of Health Sciences in 2016. The old apartheid establishment have been avoiding to be led by a Black talented scholar. But as #Fallist we made it clear to White people that they have no choice but Professor Mayosi. 

At my meeting with Professor Mayosi he told me that he was more at ease at his lab and his lecture room than leading the faculty. But I told him that there is no one else but him to lead the faculty of health science and he told me he will look at the matter. And later he accepted the position.

We must remember how the former Dean of Humanities Professor Buhlungu was humiliated by David Benatar the Head of Department of Philosophy by forcing a Faculty Committee meeting, that the Dean was Chairing, to discuss “animal rights” because at the meeting there was meat that was prepared for lunch for committee members. 

When the Dean dismissed his “animal rights” nonsense he stood up and shouted at the Dean and left the meeting not without slamming the door as he left with his co-White committee members. [See the response by David Benatar on these claims below - PW]

This is a known experience that Black Deans get from their White counterparts for being Black Deans and leaders of faculties. 

Faculties at UCT are operated largely through senior management committees. At Health Sciences these Committees are dominated by White old people. The reality of the matter is that most decisions taken or favorable to the Dean are frustrated through these committees. 

It is no secret that Professor Mayosi wanted to transform Health Sciences at UCT and he wanted to decolonize it. It is a well known secret that he came out of his office during #FeesMustFall wearing his red gown and protested with us on the streets. The White establishment did not like this. 

If we, as #FeesMustFall, have contributed to his passing away is because we actively lobbied him to take the position of Deanship at UCT’s Health Sciences Faculty notwithstanding that this position was politically contested. While we knew he was happy and at ease at his lab and lecture hall!

To his family, friends and comrades lalani ngenxheba! Le nto kakade yinto yalo nto! Akuhlanga lingehliyo!

Chumani Maxwele is a Postgraduate Student at UCT’s African Studies and Politics Department. He is a political and social justice activist.

A reply by David Benatar

Chumani Maxwele’s article “UCT killed Professor Mayosi” is replete with revisionist history and self-exculpatory rationalizations that will need to be corrected at a more appropriate time. It also contains defamatory remarks about me, which are patently false. I never shouted at the former Dean of Humanities, Sakhela Buhlungu. Nor did I slam the door when I left the meeting that Mr Maxwele has inaccurately described in other ways too. I am responding to these defamatory remarks through formal channels and thus won’t comment further until those processes have been completed.