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A colossal figure with a heart for humanity. A selfless leader.  A humble and hugely compassionate man, devoted to ensuring adequate primary healthcare services to all as a basic human right.

These were just some of the words used by management, staff and students of Nelson Mandela University to describe the late Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Lungile Pepeta, during a memorial service on Friday (14 August 2020).

Prof Pepeta, who passed away a week ago and was laid to rest at his home in Bizana, Eastern Cape, earlier this week, was remembered by his colleagues and students, highlighting the indelible mark he left during the three years that he was part of the University.

When he joined the University, bringing with him extensive experience in working with key stakeholders in the health sector, including national and provincial government, his role was to lead the Health Science Faculty and help the institution realise its vision of establishing the country’s 10th medical school.

More recently, and at the time of his passing, he was assisting in spearheading the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at institutional level and at a broader societal level; working with various healthcare professionals, political leaders and businesses in the metro and province.

Opening the virtual proceedings, following a digital tribute to Prof Pepeta, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, spoke of how the past week had seen glowing tributes made in memory of the renowned paediatric cardiologist.

“In the past week and at his funeral in Bizana on Wednesday, glowing tributes have been shared about Prof Pepeta, who has been described by many as a larger than life character, with the broadest of smiles and the biggest of hearts.  Indeed, he was loved by his patients, peers, mentees, students, colleagues, family and friends,” she said.

At the funeral in Bizana, at which Prof Muthwa was a speaker, she spoke in depth about how his humble and rural upbringing influenced his massive contribution to society.

“He inspired us with his vision for integrated public healthcare, which was to be underpinned by people’s own agency to take part in their own health and wellness. He truly believed in this.”

“He embodied servant leadership, humility and professionalism.  He was a living example, that it is possible to be simple, yet talented; to be humble, yet courageous.”

Mandela University Chancellor, Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, also conveyed her condolences, saying Prof Pepeta’s passing made the country all the more poorer.

“I join you in shedding tears for a young man, whose life was cut short too early. We will memorialise him by making the Medical School a reality and ensure the transdisciplinary of the sciences is continued for the benefit for all in society,” she said.

Chair of Council, Ambassador Nozipho January-Bardill, described Prof Pepeta as a confident man, who was “never arrogant”.

“We trusted him and knew that the [medical school] project was in the best hands it could be,” she said.

“He was a man of great stature and carried himself with great confidence. He therefore gave us the confidence that he would meet the promise he made to us. We will miss him deeply.”

“He taught us the value of humility, authenticity and commitment. He understood why he had to deliver on the Medical School, why he had to restructure the Faculty, and why the school needed to be built at Missionvale.”

Prof Pepeta has been widely described as having been extremely passionate and committed to South Africa’s health sector, particularly in the Eastern Cape, where he was raised, studied and spent the bulk of his illustrious career.

It was this passion and commitment that made him the perfect fit for what Mandela University envisaged as a model for its Health Sciences Faculty and Medical School, which has a focus on primary healthcare, that is preventative rather than curative, with a particular focus on poor and deep rural areas.

Prof Pepeta’s Faculty and Deanery colleagues, as well as student representative struggled to contain their emotions as they spoke of a man who had touched and changed their lives, he inspired them in so many ways.

Head of the Radiography Department, Razana Williams, said Prof Pepeta truly lived out his name – Lungile.

“You were kind, had a great sense of humour and infectious laugh.. You were approachable, a people’s person, which was shown in the way you treated general workers with the same regard as the VC,” she said.

“We watched you bear your cross daily, and pray that as you enter heaven, you lay down your cross and pick up your crown.”

Prof Pepeta had quite an impact on students, not only of the Health Sciences Faculty but at large, many of who were mentored and inspired by him. He touched may students’ lives with his academic expertise, concern for their welfare, wellbeing and personal circumstances.

Student Representative Council President, Thembalethu Nyikilana, said he felt privileged to have been touched by his personality.

“He has been a ground-breaking activist and a pioneer in the struggle for access and success. His passion is deep rooted in the fundamental understanding of the plight of the most marginalised of students. [This was evident in] how passionate he supported initiatives such as the SRC’s Operation Siyangena, which is aimed at assisting students, who like him, came from the most rural of areas and struggled with access to education.”

“I call him a social cardiologist because he had the ability to touch people’s hearts with his wisdom and personality.”

His fellow Deans described him as a gentle and compassionate giant, who could light up any room. He was known as an infectious person, who engaged with people in a way that made them feel seen and heard, even when meeting him for the first time.

“Lungile was a popular addition to the Deanery in January 2017. His reputation preceded him as a paediatric cardiologist of the top drawer and a person to health of the Eastern Cape and country,” said Prof Avinash Govindjee, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law.

“What we were perhaps unprepared for was the disarming smile, congenial nature of his personality, his warmth, positivity, steadfastness and natural inclination to operate in the service of society.”

In everlasting memory of Prof Pepeta, the University has committed to preserving his legacy of servicing the most vulnerable of communities through integrated healthcare education.

“We commit to do all that we can practically, to work with his family and the medical fraternity to make sure that we memorialise Lungile and that his bright light never dims,” Prof Sibongile Muthwa said this week.

Watch the virtual memorial on our YouTube channel


Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777