The late Professor Tobias - Leadership by example

By sylviahammond, 10 June, 2012

With all that's written about leadership today, and all the training courses run, it's interesting to look at the reports on the passing of Professor Tobias and considerthe way in which he epitomises leadership. 

He passed away last week at the age of 86, and although ill during this last year, it is reported that he continued to work.  He didn't have any children, but after teaching thousands of students, he has left a considerable legacy able to continue his work in multiple ways.

As a student he was elected President of the  National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) in 1948 - a critical year for the then non-racial union just after the introduction of apartheid.  He remained a political activist who continued to campaign against racism and apartheid.

Awarded the title Professor Emeritus by Wits University, when he retired after more than 30 years, including heading the Anatomy department of the medical school, he continued his paleaontological work at Sterkfontein.  There he campaigned for the site to be proclaimed a World Heritage site, which he achieved now known internationally as: "the Cradle of Humankind".

He held multiple doctorates, held three professorships simultaneously, was nominated for a Nobel prize three times, and many international and local honorary degrees.  President Thabo Mbeki presented him with the Walter Sisulu Special Contribution Award, and on his passing President Jacob Zuma commended his contribution to achieving the return of Saartjie Bartmann.

He is especially remembered by those in the North-West province where Sterkfontein is located, and BuaNews reports Premier Thandi Modise's tribute to him: “South Africa and in particular those of the North West Province and Taung will forever remain indebted to Professor Tobias for being instrumental in taking forward the research started by Professor Raymond Dart, who was famous for his discovery of what became known as the Taung Skull in 1924.” 

The child's skull is now regarded as belonging to "humanoid Australopithecus Africanus genus", which was a new link in the chain to homo sapiens.

Truly a South African who made a major contribution, his students have a considerable legacy to uphold.  Who are comparable leaders today?  



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