Guilt rests on all our shoulders
Immediately after the death of someone we are wont to believe that “now is not the time for finger-pointing”.
I wish to disagree ... The series of events that led to the death of Professor Bongani Mayosi rests on all our shoulders. As a society we have to take responsibility for his death.
We gave birth, and provide shelter, for the callousness and cruelty, the lack of compunction and the theatrics of populist uprisings.
We also shield and embolden those who stand in the way of social change and transformation.
These are the untouchables. I will not discuss them.
There have been reports that the attacks on Professor Mayosi’s integrity were a major factor in his death. There is a lot of truth in that.
There is also truth in the abandonment of black academics in institutions of higher learning.
In a disturbing (beautifully written) memorial to Professor Mayosi, published by Litnet, Marlene van Niekerk wrote: “All you licking, fawning bastards who saw pure sunlight shining from the rad-est Fallist arses, why are you so quiet now? Many deans became unhinged ...
“His soul, Bongani’s sister said, was vandalised, the insults (sell-out, coconut) cut him to the core, he changed, withdrew, spoke less and less and killed himself.
“He suffered from depression, known locally as losing heart.”
I left my position at Nelson Mandela University last year after I had “lost my heart”.
I cannot explain the details and circumstances that led to my resignation – I can write about my health.
The death of Professor Mayosi, and Van Niekerk’s words, resonated deeply.
I’m afraid it has brought on a relapse in the mental and physical difficulties I suffered between April and October last year. This is the medical story.
In April last year, I got a bout of flu. I worked through it.
Then I had a series of blackouts – at my desk, in the parking lot, at home, but thankfully, not behind the wheel.
By May I had entered therapy.
Doctors thought I had bronchitis. The antibiotics did not work. The doctors sent a note: “He is pushing himself too hard”.
I needed to take time off. I did not.
The therapist spoke to me about PTSD. By July I had collapsed a few more times.My vision became blurry. I suffered spells of dizziness.
The flu-like symptoms worsened. I was rushed to hospital, and placed on intravenous drips. Things were bad.
Colleagues, young and old, black and white, visited me in hospital (as did family I had never previously met).
Some called. They brought food, flowers. Others sat by my bedside for hours. Students called. Administrative staff visited me in hospital. The young staff I had mentored in my faculty showed great compassion.
I promised one that I would attend (and looked forward to) her graduation. I could not keep my promise. I regret that.
After my discharge from hospital I returned to work, too early as it turned out, and had a relapse. The doctor wrote more notes. He wanted me to stay in bed, and at home for at least a month.
During the weeks I stayed at home, a series of events led me to “lose my heart” and I resigned from Nelson Mandela University.
It took me six months and tens of thousands of rands of medical and neuropsychological, and later neuropsychiatric, treatment to fully recover.
A single colleague stood by me, every step of the way, providing unconditional support – to this very day.
I left stronger, again, almost 10 months after my resignation, until the news of Professor Mayosi’s death.
That was when I had a relapse. I am in the dark again.
Glimmers of hope arrived. Young academics (smart African academics) and students called to ask after my wellbeing. They knew that I had been unemployed for seven or eight months after I resigned.
They knew that my health had taken a beating.
They called to support me, as they did during those difficult times before.
Let me say this, I have the utmost respect and great admiration for the vice-chancellor, Dr Sibongile Muthwa, for the chancellor, Geraldine FrazerMoleketi, and for other former colleagues.
There are some exceptional people at NMU. I will never say a bad thing about the institution. What happened to me is personal.
I suffered “mental and physical burnout”, my immune system took a battering, and I was diagnosed with chronic-fatigue syndrome.
During this time, I needed help, counselling and support.
I’m not sure to whom Van Niekerk referred when she wrote about the “licking, fawning bastards”. I also am not sure who the deans are who became “unhinged”.
Of this I am sure, Professor Mayosi’s death was preventable. I never met him but I knew him well.
He was a professional, highly educated, intelligent and dedicated black person who was thrown to the wolves.