BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
SHE was not just one of the recipients of the inaugural King Lewanika Royal Meritocracy Award. Kapelwa Mwanang’umbi Sikota is also a woman of many firsts. She was the first Zambian registered nurse. The mother of prominent Lusaka lawyer Sakwiba was posthumously honoured at the recent Kuomboka ceremony. Born in Mongu district on July 7, 1928, she attended her primary school education at Lukona Mission and Mabumbu Girls Boarding in Western Province. Thereafter, Mrs Sikota proceeded to Chipembi Girls Boarding School in Chisamba for her Standard VI, which was the highest level of education a girl could attain in the then Northern Rhodesia. For secondary education, she went to Indent Mission School near Durban in South Africa. After graduating, Mrs Sikota enrolled for training as a registered nurse at McCord Zulu Hospital in Durban. She completed her training in 1951 and graduated as the best nurse of the year. Mrs Sikota later enrolled for midwifery training at the same college in Durban, which she completed in 1952. “Mum’s education was sponsored by her elder brother Meebelo Mwanang’umbi. He had taken over looking after his mum and his siblings when grandma was widowed. Grandpa had been killed by a hippo. Mum’s elder brother had been a teacher but on the onset of the Second World War he enlisted and served in Burma,” Mr Sikota says. He says upon his return he studied and became an accountant and member of Chartered Institute of Secretaries. “He used his earnings from his stint in Burma to sponsor his youngest sister Kapelwa Mwanang’umbi up to her training in Durban at McCord Hospital,” Mr Sikota says. Immediately after completion of her midwifery training, she returned home in the then Northern Rhodesia. Upon her return, Mrs Sikota was immediately employed at Lusaka Central Hospital (now University Teaching Hospitals) where she became the first African state registered nurse in Northern Rhodesia. She was later employed at Roan Antelope Mine Hospital in Luanshya as the first African nurse up to 1961, when she moved back to Lusaka Central Hospital or UTH. The white community was at first uncomfortable having a black woman supervisor, but they later accepted her skills and ability. Mrs Sikota eventually became a darling of both the black and white communities. At that time, there were poor conditions of service for Africans and there was no union. Mrs Sikota fought a lone hard battle to be put on the same salary scale as her white colleagues with similar qualifications. Despite facing a lot of discrimination at work, she fought for her rights and those of other African health workers. Some of the battles she fought included issues of using the same canteen and social facilities with white workmates. Her fight for equality was even taken to the British House of Commons.
On November 29, 1960, John Stonehouse, a Member of Parliament, raised her issue and asked Iain MacLeod, the secretary of state for health and social care of the United Kingdom “whether he is aware that Mrs Kapelwa Sikota, a qualified state-registered nurse, is unable to obtain employment in this capacity with the mining companies of Northern Rhodesia because of discrimination; and whether he will take steps to deal with the situation”. Mr Macleod responded, “I am informed that Mrs Sikota has been employed for the past three years by a mining company as supervisor of a hostel for African trainee nurses. As the honourable member will be aware, the mining industry has recently announced an agreement whereby all jobs will be open to persons of all races. I have no reason to think that Mrs Sikota is being debarred from any post through discrimination.”
She was, however, being discriminated against and made to be matron for a hostel rather than a state-registered nurse.
This, however, changed soon after the issue was highlighted in the House of Commons, and Mrs Sikota opened the way for the African nurses who were to follow her. And because of the competence and determination to fight for her rights and those of other workers, Mrs Sikota soon found that the same people who tried to suppress her started to admire and recognise her talents. On November 1, 1964 she was promoted to the rank of sister-in-charge at UTH, again the first African in that position.
Mrs Sikota worked in different nursing and midwifery portfolios until she became the chief nursing officer at the Ministry of Health. Again, she was the first African to hold that key position. Mrs Sikota was instrumental in planning and putting up some of the first modern facilities at UTH. As chief nursing officer, she encouraged nurses of all categories to develop and further their education and acquire new skills by taking extra courses. In 1974, she relinquished her position as chief nursing officer at the Ministry of Health to accompany her husband, Aggrey Sikota, to France where he took up a diplomatic posting.
She retired from active service in 1984. Mrs Sikota died on May 30, 2006, survived by four children: Grace, Imasiku, Sakwiba and Ngombala. She had four granddaughters – Limpo, Kapelwa, Mwila and Sepo – and two great-granddaughters.
The Zambia Association of University Women and the General Nursing Council posthumously recognised her as a female achiever and pioneer. The Ministry of Health recognised her pioneering role in the medical profession in Zambia by naming the nursing school lecture hall at Levy Mwanawasa Medical University after her. Accepting the award granted to his mother posthumously, Mr Sikota says “it is extremely gratifying for the Sikota and Mwanang’umbi families that our mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, grand aunt and great grand aunt has been recognised and honoured with the conferment of the inaugural King Lewanika Royal Meritocracy Awards 2022. She was our grand lady and I speak on behalf of the family. “Mum returned to the then Northern Rhodesia as the first African state-registered nurse. She fought a lone fight to be recognised to be equal to the white nurses and took her fight right up to the House of Commons. Her achievements go beyond just Barotseland but affect the whole of Zambia. It is therefore fitting that the Litunga has recognised what she means to Barotseland and Zambia through the honour conferred of the Inaugural King Lewanika Royal Meritocracy Awards 2022,” Mr Sikota says. He adds: “We believe all the things said about her pale into insignificance and she is deserving of the award for being the best and greatest mum, grandma and great-grandma in the world. To the Barotse Royal Establishment, we say thank you very much.”