Tobias memoir published

1 minute read

Speaking of Phillip Tobias, The Sunday Independent is carrying a long interview of Tobias discussing his autobiography. Google says the site is subscription-only, but I got it without a problem, and I'm no subscriber.

At 80, Tobias is the dean of South African paleoanthropologists. He oversaw excavations in South Africa for many years, had a huge research output, named Homo habilis and worked closely with many other leaders in the field. The article touches on the beginnings of his career:

His brilliant career was ridden with personal conflict. Some colleagues left the country because they found apartheid untenable. He declined several invitations to take up chairs at universities overseas. He opted for Wits and assumed his position in the chair of anatomy in January 1959, the year in which apartheid legislation in education was passed in parliament - "a dark time".
To leave the university and the country would be intellectual suicide, he wrote in his journal. And in our interview he remarks: "And how close that would have been to physical suicide."
And so he stayed the course and fought against apartheid from within.


And on the "ultimate messages" of it all:

I try to get past the bigger questions Tobias poses in his memoir, for instance: do we owe our success as bipeds to anatomical adjustments of our skeleton, or to a more exquisitely developed proprioceptive system?
He has written about his continuing search for Sterkfontein's "ultimate messages" and the need for synthesis: between ancient and modern peoples; genetics and evolution; long-term and short-term development; brain, mind and behaviour.
I call on the professor to make his personal story more, well, human. In this way we move past some of the contradictions of his nature, modesty coupled with insistent probing, public with private - only to discover further, great contradictions.

The article says that next week The Independent will run an excerpt of the memoir, Into the Past.