Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg
12 April 1960 - 23 April 2020
I am deeply saddened to inform you of the devastating news of the untimely passing of Professor Bernard Janse van Rensburg. Bernard passed away on Thursday 23rd of April 2020 following a massive heart attack a few days earlier.
To those of us who knew him well, and those who admired him from afar, this is no doubt a huge shock and leaves us numbed by the reality of his passing. As the Board of Directors of SASOP, we are overcome by grief, and the loss of a colleague, a leader, a mentor, a dear friend, an academic and kind gentle soul.
Bernard was the Immediate Past-President of the South African Society of Psychiatrists. Amongst his numerous other leadership roles in psychiatry, he was the Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry and an honorary member of the WPA. He was also the chair of the SAMA Academic Doctors Association (ADASA). He was an experienced organizer and convener of CPD-accredited academic meetings, including chairing the local organizing committee of the WPA International Congress in Cape Town, co-hosted by the SASOP in November 2016.
Prof Bernard Janse van Rensburg was an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg, South Africa, and head of the psychiatric unit at the Helen Joseph Hospital. He completed his medical training in 1983 and qualified as a psychiatrist in 1996. He obtained a PhD from WITS in 2010 on the role of spirituality in psychiatric practice and his experience included health planning and epidemiology, general and consultation liaison psychiatry, research development and governance of professional associations. He also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Health Sciences Education in 2018, consolidating an approach to teaching and learning theory, as well as under and post graduate curriculum planning, teaching methods and assessment. He was appointed in March 2019 as Assistant Head of School for Cluster B (Psychiatry, Internal Medicine, Neurosciences and Radiation Sciences) of the School of Clinical Medicine of the WITS Faculty of Health Sciences.
Perhaps we will best remember Bernard for championing the establishment of the National Mental Health Alliance of mental health organisations during his presidency in order to strengthen advocacy for mental illness. He was passionate about the social contract that psychiatrists have with our society. He was also instrumental in the stance SASOP took against the Gauteng Marathon Project that led to the Life Esidimeni tragedy. His meticulous record keeping enabled SASOP to easily demonstrate all our efforts in advising the government against the project. Lastly, he put a huge amount of effort, at great personal sacrifice, in order to successfully host the WPA International Congress in Cape Town in 2016. This congress was an important catalyst to showcasing South African psychiatry on the world stage. Those of us who were fortunate to serve with him would probably say that he had an amazing mind of seeing how different parts of a puzzle fit together, a beautiful heart, and deeply passionate about psychiatry.
While we remember him fondly, we salute his immense personal sacrifices as the past president of SASOP and we mourn the loss of a gentle giant in Psychiatry in South Africa.
Rest in Peace Beloved Bernard
Prof. Bonga Chiliza