THERE are many ways of putting education to good use, says former University of Zambia vice-chancellor Professor Robert Serpell.
Paying tribute to his wife Dr Namposya Nampanya-Serpell, Prof Serpell says he had learned from her life as a university-educated woman from her first graduation to her untimely death in 2016 that there are many ways of putting such education to good use.
Dr Nampanya-Serpell was one of the founding members of the Zambia Association of University Women, now Graduate Women Zambia.
On March 8 this year, Graduate Women Zambia posthumously honoured Dr Nampanya-Serpell during celebrations to mark 35 years of its existence.
Prof Serpell described his wife as:
“Not only as a researcher to generate new knowledge for the benefit of humankind or as a writer, speaker and teacher to share that knowledge with others; but also as a principled guide to practical action; as an advocate in daily life of respect for evidence in public affairs; as a supporter of the next generation to enjoy the experience of higher education; and as an inspiring example to others on how to derive benefit from education.”
Eleven other women honoured during the same event include: Petronella Kawandami–Chisanga (president), Rosemary Kanyanta Walinkonde–Sishimba (vice-president), Dorica Linda Pasi, (secretary), Hazel Izileni Milambo (vice-secretary), Christine Yande Chilangwa–Ng’ambi (treasurer), Mwambwa Gertrude M. Imenda (vice-treasurer), Christine Mubanga Chilatu (deceased, secretary), Daisy Nkhata–Ng’ambi (committee member), Tina M. Chifunyise (deceased, committee member), Victoria Bwalya Mulenga–Mukelabai (president 2005 – 2006 and treasurer), and Lucy Mutumba Muyoyeta (president 2011 to 2016).
Dr Namposya was the first person in her family to attend university.
Graduating in 1973 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, her first job in government was Assistant District Secretary for Lusaka Rural.
She was born in Mbala, Northern Province on October 1, 1949, the seventh child of Rev Jackson Kachinga Simpanya and Alice Namwali Mwambazi.
“For the first ten years of her life, she grew up in Chiyanga village about five miles from the Boma, where she revealed an early aptitude for school. After grade four, she moved to live with her elder sister, Lily, in Luwingu, where Lily’s husband Reuben Sinyangwe was district secretary (one of the earliest Africans to hold that post in the Northern Rhodesian administration). In the Sinyangwe home, she was one of the children, doing homework assignments from school on the dining-room table alongside her niece and age-mate Olive (now Sikazwe) and her elder nephews, the late Silvester and Treadwell. She was a star pupil at the local government primary school, groomed for competitive entry into secondary school. In 1965, she started form one at Kasama Girls. Namposya and six others in her class qualified for admission to UNZA and formed one of the biggest cohorts of undergraduate students from a single school that year. In 1973, she graduated with a Major in Economics,” recalls Prof Serpell.
It was during her undergraduate studies at UNZA that she met her husband, Prof Serpell, a lecturer in psychology, born and raised in England, who joined UNZA in 1965.
He went on to become a naturalised citizen of Zambia in 1979.
Dr Namposya was never enrolled in any of the classes Prof Serpell taught since professional ethics would have prohibited him from dating one of his students.
They got married in 1973 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka and together raised six children.
“Derek, who is now an architect and independent businessman living with his wife and children on the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, was my son by a previous marriage and was already seven years old. Six-year-old Mwila was Namposya’s niece, daughter of her elder brother Robinson Simpanya and his first wife Charity. Later, Namposya gave birth to three daughters: Zewelanji, who is now an Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA; Chisha who died at the age of 23 in 1999; and Namwali who is now an Associate Professor of English at the University of California Berkeley in the USA, and a creative writer, one of whose short stories won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2015. The youngest of our children is Suwilanji, daughter of Namposya’s late younger sister Diana, whom we adopted in 1997, and is currently the managing director of WebLounge Services in Lusaka,” Prof Serpell says.
Concurrently with the growth of the family household, Dr Namposya’s professional career was taking off in leaps and bounds.
In 1973, right after graduation, she started her first full-time job as assistant district secretary for Lusaka Rural in the Government Division for Provincial Admin and Local Government.
This was the beginning of a seven-year spell in government service, in which she rose from the position of Budget Analyst in the Budget Office of the Ministry of Finance to Senior Economist and Head of the Ministry’s Economics Division.
Prof Serpell says in October 2015, his wife was unexpectedly diagnosed with ovarian cancer and underwent surgery in Lusaka, followed by five months of chemotherapy in Cape Town, South Africa.
After a period of five months remission back home in Lusaka, she travelled to the USA for further treatment, which was unsuccessful.
Soon after returning to Lusaka, she died on December 17, 2016.
The impact of university education on Dr Serpell’s life extended beyond the opportunities it opened for employment in leadership roles.