Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

The boy who never gave up

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 28, 2021

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By Pali Lehohla

A REFUGEE’S epic journey to triumph is an autobiography of Dr Emmanuel Taban, who is named by the New African Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Africans in 2020.

He is a highly qualified pulmonologist, trained from Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand.

He also holds a European Diploma in adult respiratory medicine.

Taban runs a medical practice at Midstream Hospital in Centurion. To imagine that he actually started uninterrupted schooling only at the age of seventeen defies all logic.

Rejected by his country and raised by the globe, his schooling has been interrupted by war and prison. But his determination to succeed for his lifelong education journey is fascinating.

But it is also humbling for resource rich Africa which has become a laboratory renowned for condemning its youth to a life of hopelessness.

Taban emerged with a novel technique of mucus extraction from the lungs in the midst of Covid-19. Applying an already existing but complex procedure of flexible fibre optic bronchoscopy (FFB), Taban uses the see it and treat it technique by which he is able to see the mucus and remove it from the lungs.

He is the first in the world to undertake this intricate procedure.

Taban’s story epitomises the spectre of the permanence of premature possibility of death that is inspired by absence of caring, the politics of greed, injustice, bigotry and ignorance.

He almost met an untimely death from the Pretoria Metro Police as he looked too black and be in a rush to a hospital where a patient in an emergency ward was waiting for his intervention.

His life story and journey on foot and hikes from Juba in South Sudan at the age of fifteen, to Khartoum, to Eritrea, to Ethiopia, to Kenya, to Tanzania, to Mozambique, through Zimbabwe and finally to South Africa at the age of seventeen in search of education tortures your gut.

The management of suspense, the wicked sense of humour, the permanent walk in the shadow of death are illustriously captured in this 248 page book.

But what is striking is his prominence of resilience and stubborn perseverance.

His mantra of taking responsibility from a tender age of three has not departed his soul. Ten years of his life without a word from and to his beloved mother and any of his relatives adds to the suspense.

As we search for a better world where human beings can start being human, Taban’s contribution is epic. Taban is a paragon of agency and content of purpose.

Taban’s discovery of the application of flexible fibre optic bronchoscopy to acute Covid-19 patients is a novel discovery worth celebrating. The US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan carried the story of this discovery to the world.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL. or for title sites

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