- A former Manenberg taxi driver is now a qualified doctor.
- Randall Ortel completed a master's in medicine at the University of Cape Town in December.
- Although his taxi driving days are a thing of the past, Ortel said he's not leaving the gang infested area anytime soon.
A man who lives in the gang-ridden community of Manenberg, Cape Town, drove a "pimped out" minibus taxi over weekends seven years ago, to fund part of his medical studies at Stellenbosch University.
Now, Dr Randall Ortel is beaming with pride. After graduating from Stellenbosch University, he obtained his master's in medicine at the University of Cape Town last month.
Ortel, 37, grew up in the heart of Manenberg, notorious for its gangsterism, heavy crime, and drugs.
The family physician and occupational and emergency medicine practitioner told News24 he always had a passion for helping people but wasn't sure what field to go into when he matriculated.
"There was a well-known doctor, Dr Abu Mowlana, in the Manenberg area who I looked up to so much, and the more I started to engage with him the more I realised that I wanted to get into the medical field.
"I've always loved challenges, and even at school academics was something I thrived in, so when I made the calculated decision to pursue a medical career there was no way I was going to give it up," Ortel said.
He said the journey to becoming a doctor wasn't always easy and he had to secure funding for his studies.
"I knew that I did not want to be part of the statistics of people who fall into the trap of crime. My motto back then was 'I don't want a criminal record.'
"It's still my motto. When you live on the Cape Flats it can be very easy to get one. I knew I had an end goal to better my life and that came with many sacrifices," he said.
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Ortel managed to get a bursary for his studies but he needed funding for medical books, transport, and living expenses, which his parents couldn't afford.
"I spent many nights thinking about how I was going to make money and then it dawned on me when I saw taxis in the area. I had my licence but I needed to be 21 years old to get my PDP [professional driving permit] papers so that I could work as a taxi driver.
"In the months leading me to get the paperwork, I reached out to a couple in the area who had a transporting company, they were kind enough to lend me their taxi on weekends so that I could drive people into the CBD area and make a living," Ortel added.
He drove taxis for four years while studying and today he credits his hard hustle as a driver for his successes.
"When you are in the driver seat of a taxi you learn to think on your feet, your mind is constantly working because the business of the day keeps you on your toes. Dealing with different people daily made me develop more patience, which has helped me in my daily duties," he said.
Ortel says he has no plans to leave Manenberg soon as "the people need me".
"If I can be the beacon of hope for the next youngster in the area, then why should I leave?"
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When asked if he misses the taxi life, he laughed. "Not a chance!" he said. "I did what I had to do to make a living, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a taxi driver just like there is nothing wrong with living in Manenberg, but I'm better off being a doctor."
Now the bubbly doctor is using social media to educate people about health-related issues, gaining well over 45 000 TikTok followers.
"I wanted to educate people about the basic health issues many don't know about. People in my area constantly have questions about health but don't have the money to go for a general consultation so I thought why not reach people the best way possible, which is through their phones. It's been well received," Ortel added.
He's currently employed at Groote Schuur Hospital and has plans to complete his PhD.