Change the world


The rural village of Ludeke in the town of Mbizana in the Alfred Nzo region of our province, birthed, grew and honed a fine young man, who would not only make them proud, but also ceaselessly exemplify his roots — humble beginnings, reaffirm his identity and most importantly, connect and carry the aspirations of his people, particularly the youth. 

Like any other rural child, Lungile Pepeta grew up looking after livestock and doing other daily house chores.

Just like all other children he was respectful to all the elders in the community and treated them like his parents.

He is part of the generation that grew up knowing and accepting the communal practice that a child is raised not only by his /her parents, but by the entire community.

It is these foundational values that shaped his early life, grounded and firmly formed in him such values as love for the people, compassion, human solidarity, humility and service.

He is the product of the hills, the rivers — where he learnt swimming — and the beautiful lands of Ludeke which is located not far from the great Umthamvuna river and also a stone’s throw away from Nkantolo, the village that produced the legendary and fine leader of the struggle, OR Tambo.

Lungile’s love for education started at his formative stages of his life.

He knew what he wanted as he enjoyed studying biology and physical science.

It is at this embryonic phase of his life that he demonstrated his brilliance, courage and unparalleled academic leadership of generations of fellow students that traversed his pathways. Failure did not exist in his worldview.

Because of how he carried himself, related to elders and his chosen mentors in the village, Lungile became a role model in the community. He was a grittiest shining star, marvelled by many and venerated by young and old.

It is these fine attributes, demonstrably hunger for excellence, love for success, indivisible commitment to humanity that influenced his career — to herald quality health services as part of the primary necessity to change the quality of life especially of the poor people.

The combination of these values together with the formal knowledge he acquired at higher education institutions as well as lessons from praxis, made him a magnet that connects all.

They formed in him a glue that binds together various forces that share a common destiny. It is this value system that made him an activist public intellectual.

He mastered the dialectical link between theory and practice. He tested the ideas or knowledge he professed in practice.

He, thus distinguished himself from armchair critics and “WhatsApp / social media” activists.

His activism was found truly where action was needed most.

Lungile, as a genuine crusader with a great concern for the people always led from the front.

His leadership prowess was more evinced when he patiently advised the university on road maps and appropriate approaches to effectively fight Covid-19.

In carrying out this task, he skilfully displayed a combination of smart approaches, tough love, education, caring and resourcefulness.

It is this authentic engagement approach that made him to stay connected to his students — always willing to listen and to be engaged.

Lungile understood and practised transcendental leadership — had a precise appreciation of the interconnection between his faculty and the rest of the university and society.

Therefore, supporting a medical programme was easy to assimilate as this was congruent with his values and the health-care system he espoused.

Inescapably, because of what he did while he lived with us, it is befitting to describe him as a colossus, a people’s public intellectual, a people’s medical professional and a conscientious development activist par excellence.

His story is a living testimony that with determination, focus, foresight and vision, you can effect change in life.

The circumstances of your birth should and must not be an obstacle to your life aspirations. He was able and believed that all of us are able.

Our namesake — Nelson Mandela — made a poignant statement that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

As a way of giving a living tribute to the departed Lungile Pepeta, our duty is to immortalise him by deepening his legacy, carry on with his great deeds, love and serve the people and fashion the kind of education system he envisioned — relevant education that addresses and responds to the development challenges of our country.

We are called upon to embody the values of hard work, selfless service, social justice, humility and excellence.

As we mourn his untimely departure, and celebrate his life — an epitome of diligence, unwavering commitment to humanity, we must rededicate ourselves to continue with the journey.

We pay our respects to him and send our condolences to his wife, family and children.

Let us release him uNgwane. He has done what he could do while he lived.

He has not done what he could not do. What is done is done. What is done cannot be undone.

Let us take solace from the words of the eminent poet, SEK Mqhayi:

Ewe, le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto. Thuthuzelekani ngoko, zinkedama! Thuthuzelekani ngoko, bafazana!‘Akuhlanga lungehlanga’

Rest in Peace Mntam! Hamba kakuhle Yihlo!

This article was written by Luthando Jack, Dean of Students at Nelson Mandela University and appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 13 August 2020