In remembrance: Abonga Sithela

07 August 2023

Dear colleagues and students

It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the passing of our colleague, Mr Abonga Sithela (37), who tragically left us following a car accident on the morning of Saturday, 29 July 2023.

Mr Sithela was a lecturer in Musicology at the South African College of Music (SACM), at the University of Cape Town (UCT)’s Faculty of Humanities. This appointment was made possible by the Teaching Fellowship in the faculty’s Turning The Tide (TTT) academic pipeline project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. During this period, he was also a fellow at the Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at UCT, where he was part of a team responsible for and about to launch its Art Development initiative.

At SACM, he had been teaching Historical Musicology since 2020, and had been a teaching assistant in the extended degree and diploma programmes since 2020 and a tutor in historical musicology courses since 2018. He was also a teaching assistant for the Academic Development Programme at the UCT Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) since 2013. He completed his BMus, BMus Hons (Musicology) and MMus (Musicology) at SACM, examining the impact of having a choir in the community. His doctoral studies in Historical Musicology at the SACM centred on music as a lens through which to read complex decolonial and epistemic questions about South Africa.

At HUMA, he is remembered as a beautiful, honest, kind and generous human being, always provoking laughter. He was sociable, outgoing, respectful, very active in sports and had a talent for singing. Colleagues in the SACM remember how, throughout his postgraduate studies (and already in the final years of his BMus), Mr Sithela sought to guide students who were struggling with the university environment as he was when he began his studies. He was a mentor and later the mentor co-ordinator, and he worked in the Saturday morning music outreach of the SACM. Most importantly, he was the go-to person for students grappling with their studies, and staff struggling with curriculum change: how to make teaching more relevant, more accessible and more successful. His own experiences and the work he did for CHED gave him invaluable insight, and the ability to advise both staff and students.

Mr Sithela was enrolled for a PhD at the time of his passing, supported by his TTT Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. His research was going to put the music history of South Africa on a new track, using vernacular sources from newspapers and other publications, and archival material uncovering the contribution of women who used music as a form of activism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

He is survived by his mother, Nandipha Gloria Buyeye; daughter, Alutha; stepfather; siblings, Ayanda Buyeye and Olunje Tsutsu; and grandmother, Jeslina Nowebhile Sitela.

A memorial service by the family is being planned for Wednesday, 9 August 2023, while details of a UCT memorial service will be communicated by the department at a later stage. Funeral arrangements had not yet been made by the family.

Having reached out to Mr Sithela’s family to convey our condolences, our hearts go out to them as well as his friends, colleagues and students. We offer our sincerest condolences and support to them during this time.


The UCT Executive

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