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THE work of Professor Phillip Tobias, a man who lived with a twinkle in his eye and dedicated his life to unravelling the mysteries of human origin, is on display at Wits University.

Tobias, who died after a long illness on 7 June at the age of 86, left a remarkable legacy in the fields of palaeoanthropology, genetics, medicine and humanitarianism. To honour his memory, the Adler Museum of Medicine at Wits Medical School is staging an exhibition entitled Of Hominids and Humankind. It ends on 31 July.

Located in the Medical School Library foyer, the exhibition includes pictures of Tobias. It covers his life from his troubled childhood in Durban and Bloemfontein, to his long tenure at Wits, his growing involvement in the fight against apartheid for academic freedom and the use of his extensive research to counter the arguments used by the apartheid government to explain its racial policies.

Each picture depicts a stage of Tobias’s life under various themes, including heaven and earth; the Wits years; genetics; race; and the future. Tobias was known for his dedication to the people of Africa, more especially the San and the Tonga of Zambia, and his 25-year partnership with conservationists Louis and Mary Leakey of Kenya.

Moreover, the exhibition explores his quest to reconcile religious beliefs with science and evolution as well as his love of cricket, tea and travel.

Tobias was a board member at the Adler Museum and contributed much to the establishment of the museum. He saved it from closure at the National Laboratory Service, previously known as the South African Institute for Medical Research.

Phillip Tobias's officeProfessor Phillip Tobias's office at the Wits Medical School“The exhibition is a privilege for us. It’s the medical heritage and it came at the right time, the time of his memorial,” says David Sekgwele, the professional officer at the Adler Museum.

Born in Durban on 14 October 1925, Tobias moved to Johannesburg to study science and medicine at Wits University a few years before the dark shroud of apartheid started to become a legislated evil. He was with the university for 60 years and was simultaneously a professor in the fields of anatomy, palaeoanthropology and zoology.

In addition to his work, Tobias was dean, emeritus professor, honorary professional research fellow and director of the Sterkfontein Cave since 1966 and did excavations at the major fossil sites. He received numerous national and international awards and had several honorary degrees bestowed on him for his major contributions to science.

The exhibition is curated by the award-winning documentary filmmaker and exhibition curator, Ingrid Gavshon, and is funded by the South African Jewish Museum Kushlik Kaplan Foundation. It is at the Adler Museum of Medicine, Wits Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown. The museum is open from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 4pm.

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