Tobias’s legacy lives — Mbeki

2012-06-11 00:00

A MAN of intellect and intelligence, a freedom fighter and a motivator with a love for cricket and tea … These were only a few phrases used to describe Emeritus Professor Phillip Vallentine Tobias (86) at his funeral yesterday.

Tobias, a world-renowned palaeo-anthropologist, died on Thursday after a battle with lung and respiratory problems.

Two of his highlights in a 50-year career were the discovery and description of a new hominid species and the preservation of the Sterkfontein area’s palaeo-anthropological treasures.

Tobias was also an expert in genetics, human biology, zoology, medicine, evolution, anatomy and the history and philosophy of science.

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan said during the funeral service at the West Park cemetery yesterday that even until recently Tobias had protested in his academic gown against the Protection of Information Bill, thereby showing his concern for human rights.

“Apart from being a man of reason, he was someone that understood people and could see and appreciate the beauty in everyday things.”

Hazdan explained that Jewish tradition prescribes that every person should be buried in a simple coffin.

“He is, however, being buried in a part of the cemetery set aside for people who have contributed a great deal to humanity.”

Hundreds of people, from academics to politicians like Thabo Mbeki, Tokyo Sexwale, Gill Marcus, Naledi Pandor and Derek Hanekom, as well as Ali Bacher and Dali Tambo, attended Tobias’s funeral and paid tribute to him.

“Professor Tobias will not be forgotten,” Mbeki said.

“His legacy is still alive. He did not teach only students at Wits what it means really to use your brain, but also the rest of the world,”

ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada said Tobias was a freedom fighter and prominent figure. “In the most difficult times Professor Tobias stood by his views.”

Bacher, former Springbok cricket captain and CEO of Cricket South Africa (CSA), described Tobias as a cricket lover, intellectual and inspirational person.

Professor Beverley Kramer, assistant dean of research and postgraduate support at Wits, said Tobias’s legacy was undoubtedly his contribution to academia and his sense of human rights, as demonstrated by his determination to bring Saartjie Baartman back to South Africa.

“However, I will always remember his vision and love for his students.

“Even though he was a brilliant scientist he was also a warm and kind-hearted person.”

As Tobias’s coffin was lowered into the grave, Hazdan said: “He did not just breathe life into bones, he breathed life into those around him when we felt dried up with no life.”

Thabo Mbeki, former president

Professor Tobias will not be forgotten. His legacy is still alive. He did not teach only students at Wits what it means really to use your brain, but also the rest of the world.

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