ANC pays tribute to 'icon scientist'

2012-06-08 14:43

Johannesburg - 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," spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.

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.

'Icon scientist'

"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.

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

Cultural legacy

"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 10:45 on Sunday.

Spokesperson 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.

  • goyougoodthing - 2012-06-08 15:19

    Icon? Iconic is the word you need chaps. #fml

  • rory.short1 - 2012-06-08 15:37

    We need more people who are prepared to do the work, in any field of human endeavour, that will raise them to the calibre of Philip Tobias. May his spirit rest in peace.

  • Mike Purchase - 2012-06-08 15:43

    Im also starting to believe in evolution just look at how some have evolved into good people by civilising themselves while others still have to.

  • Mike Purchase - 2012-06-08 15:44

    Skelempie you seem to love talking about testicles,just joking buddy.

  • sandy.langenstrass - 2012-06-08 16:26

    Will South Africa ever again produce such a learned, free thinking man such as "The Prof"? The old and decent hard working folk are slowly leaving our world.......we are the worse off for that !!!

  • Kathleen - 2012-06-10 08:38

    I saw Prof. Tobias' presentation of his work in Bedfordview; a lovely man and a fine scholar. I'm just not convinced that we are descended from chipanzees, and Tobias was anxious to show the chimpanzees were African. Stephen Whiteley

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