ANC pays tribute to Prof Tobias

By Drum Digital
08 June 2012

Leading palaeo-anthropologist Professor Phillip Tobias was an "outstanding" South African, the ANC said on Friday.

"His passing has robbed South Africa of an outstanding and world-renowned South African, whose work has impacted on world knowledge on human origins and preservation," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

The hominid evolution expert, who died at the age of 86 at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg on Thursday, had contributed to lifting South Africa to prominence and being regarded as a successful nation.

"His was one of the voices of reason, during the unfortunate days of apartheid, which called for the release of political detainees and prisoners," Mthembu said.

In Tobias' student days he had opposed minority rule and segregated education.

"It was not by default that the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in conveying President Mandela's view, referred to him as an 'icon scientist'."

Earlier, the SA Medical Association (Sama) paid tribute to Tobias' contribution to his field.

"Prof Tobias' globally acknowledged achievements and massive contributions in both science and medicine over the last six decades, markedly elevated South Africa's status as a major contributor to the global scientific arena," acting chairman Dr Mark Sonderup said in a statement.

He also paid homage to Tobias' role in the fight against racism and as a champion of human rights.

"Many of our members will have fond memories of this warm, generous, intensely conscientious and caring academic giant of our time. In his own words, he did not leave a genetic legacy, but rather a cultural one, orally transmitted, through education."

Sonderup extended Sama's condolences to his family, former colleagues and former students.

"Whilst we are very saddened by his passing, his legacy and impact of his life will endure forever."

The University of the Witwatersrand announced on Friday morning that Tobias would be buried in the Jewish section of the West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg at 10.45am on Sunday.

Spokeswoman Shirona Patel said in a statement that the university and his faculty would hold a memorial service for Tobias. Details would be announced shortly.

President Jacob Zuma, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, the Democratic Alliance, Gauteng Tourism Authority and Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau were among those who paid tribute to Tobias on Thursday.

Tobias was thrice nominated for a Nobel prize and was the only person to hold three professorships simultaneously at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The professor also successfully campaigned for the Sterkfontein Caves to be proclaimed a World Heritage Site, and was instrumental in the process to have the remains of Saartjie Bartmann returned to South Africa.

Tobias was the recipient of many awards and honours, including honorary degrees from the universities of Pennsylvania, Cambridge, California, Natal, Cape Town, Durban-Westville, Western Ontario, Alta, Guelph, and the Witwatersrand.

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