It would be irresponsible to speculate on the specific reasons that Professor Mayosi took his own life. Depression is a complex disease and suicide can have many causes.

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 gentle man 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.

A few months ago I met Professor Bongani Mayosi in his office at UCT. I had long admired this friend and fellow traveller in the tumultuous world of South African higher education. What struck me about his office was how modest it was, even drab, compared with any dean’s suite I had seen before. And there was something about his demeanour. He was quiet and reserved, unlike the energetic, ever-smiling and engaging man I had met before. But I shrugged it off as the pressures of deanship of one of the toughest and most prestigious academic faculties in the country.Last week, this A-rated scholar, who became known throughout the world for his groundbreaking research on the relationship between heart disease and poverty, killed himself. Since the violent student protests of 2015-16, several black vice-chancellors and deans have stepped down from their positions in some of the country’s leading universities – including the dean of law and the head of the Graduate School of Business at the...

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