Nursing is the backbone of Zambia’s health system. It is a profession where individuals selflessly dedicate themselves to the service of others. The success story of nursing in Zambia cannot be told without paying tribute to Kapelwa Mwanang’umbi Sikota who holds the honour of being the first Zambian registered nurse.

Kapelwa Mwanang’umbi Sikota was born in Mongu District on 7th July 1928. She grew up in an era when if she visited a hospital and looked around, there was never a nurse who looked like her among the staff. This realization inspired her to set a goal of becoming a nurse.

She did her primary school education in Western Province and then proceeded to Chipembi girls’ boarding school. At this time, this was the highest level of education any girl could reach in Northern Rhodesia (present day Zambia). In order for her to further her education, her brother arranged for her to go to a mission school near Durban, South Africa for secondary education. After that she enrolled at McCord Hospital to train as a nurse. She excelled during her time in nursing school and qualified as a nurse in 1951, winning the “Best Nurse of the Year” award. She then enrolled for an extra year’s training in midwifery.

She returned to Northern Rhodesia (present day) Zambia in 1952 and began working at Lusaka Central Hospital (now University Teaching Hospital). She was the first African registered nurse to do so. Being the first African to be in such a postion, she faced a lot of obstacles in her work and these obstacles included racial discrimination.

For a period of time in the 1950s, Sikota was employed at Roan Antelope Mine Hospital in Luanshya. Although she was a registered nurse, she was given a job as a matron of a hostel for trainee nurses. This gave rise to a parliamentary question in the UK House of Commons on 29th November 1960 when Iain Macleod who held the position of Secretary of State for the Colonies, was asked whether he would take steps to deal with the discrimination that was preventing mining companies in Northern Rhodesia from employing Kapelwa Sikota as a state-registered nurse even though she was qualified. Macleod’s reply was that he had no reason to think Sikota was being debarred from any post through discrimination. In 1961, Kapelwa Sikota returned to work at Lusaka Central Hospital.

The coming of Zambia’s independence in October 1964 was a positive development in the career of Kapelwa Sikota. One week after Northern Rhodesia became the Republic of Zambia, she was promoted to Sister-in-Charge at University Teaching Hospital (UTH), the first African in that position.

Throughout her career, Sikota held various senior posts in nursing and midwifery. In 1966 she was assistant Matron-in-Chief at the Ministry of Health and then became the first African to hold the post of Zambian Chief Nursing Officer. She played a part in drafting legislation that helped improve the nursing profession and she was involved in developing modern health facilities at UTH. She also played an important role in the implementation of government programmes for training nurses.

In 1974 she went to France with her husband who had a diplomatic posting there. On her return she continued to involve herself in endeavours that sought to improve healthcare in Zambia. She retired in 1984 and died on 30th May 2006.

Kapelwa Sikota’s name and legacy continue to live on through the various honours she has received for her impact on the health sector. In 2011 she was one of eleven women pioneers in different fields honoured by the Zambian Association of University Women (ZAUW). There is a lecture theatre at Levy Mwanawasa Medical University (LMMU) named “The Kapelwa Sikota Lecture Theatre” named after her in 2020. She also posthumously received the King Lewanika Royal Meritocracy Award in 2022. She also received recognition from the General Nursing Council, Ministry of Health and many other institutions.

She was a barrier breaker who paved the way for Zambian nurses. She faced and fought racial descrimination in her line of duty. She made her mark and her contribution to the nursing profession in Zambia will always be an important part of our history.

(@Connected to History)



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