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When Prof Lungile Pepeta, the executive dean of the Nelson Mandela University’s faculty of health sciences, died of Covid-19 related complications on Friday 7 August, he left a proud legacy of speaking truth to power, a dream of creating a children's hospital in the Eastern Cape, and a city, province, medical fraternity and family in deep mourning.

When Prof Lungile Pepeta died at Life St George’s Hospital on Friday, the collective hearts of his city and his province broke. Nurses were crying. Shocked doctors, battle-weary from three months in the Covid-19 trenches, shared the sad news with one another in hushed tones. As reports of his death spread around town, and from Port Elizabeth to his hometown in Bizana, there were tears and anger, but above all, shock and despair.

Covid-19 has dealt the Eastern Cape a devastating blow. It took away a doctor who fiercely advocated for the health of the province’s children, a man who bravely fought to open a medical school for rural doctors, an advocate who fearlessly battled and offended many politicians in his mission to achieve excellence in public health care.

The gentle giant from Bizana was no more – and he left behind an almost impossible dream: to create a dedicated children’s hospital for his province, staffed by an army of hand-picked specialists.

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This article appeared in the Maverick Citizen of 11 August 2020, written by Estelle Ellis. 

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