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Prof Serara Kupe-Mogwe’s contribution to nursing in Botswana

Departed icon: Prof Serara Segarona Kupe-Mogwe PIC: Courtesy of BWGovernment Facebook
In recognition of vital role played by the nurses and the midwives in providing health services, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife (ACNM 2020; ICN 2019; WHO 2020).

Thus it is fitting and proper that tribute be paid to a nursing icon of our time, Professor Serara Segarona Kupe-Mogwe, for her tremendous contribution to development of the nursing profession in Botswana and internationally. Her illustrious career includes the distinction of serving as Botswana’s first Chief Nursing Officer, a role that enabled her to become the impresario of the nursing profession in Botswana. The contributions of Professor Kupe-Mogwe to nursing, her distinguished national and international acknowledgments, her professional journey, and the challenges she overcame are presented in the section below.

Contributions to Nursing

Popularly known as “S.S.” Professor Kupe-Mogwe’s contribution to Botswana nursing parallels, in many ways, that of Britain’s Florence Nightingale, who is acclaimed internationally for pioneering the nursing profession in the 1800s. When Professor Kupe-Mogwe assumed her leadership role in 1969 as Chief Nursing Officer in Botswana’s Ministry of Health, opportunities for nurse education, training, and professional development were virtually non-existent (Moremi 2013).

With Kellogg Foundation support, Professor Kupe-Mogwe established the first organised school of nursing in Botswana 1970, the Gaborone National Health Institute (McFarland 2019). The institute now has five campuses and has educated more than 3,000 students in nursing and the allied health professions (Moremi 2013). This era is also marked by an increase in men taking up nursing. During her 10-year tenure as the Botswana Chief Nursing Officer, Kupe-Mogwe restructured hospital nursing education to be completed in three years rather than the previous four-year course length (Moremi 2013).

Professor Kupe-Mogwe’s contribution to Botswana nursing education also parallels that of Adelaide Nutting, the American nurse who moved nursing from hospital-based training to university education. In this regard, Professor Kupe- Mogwe led a successful campaign to give nurses access to tertiary education at the University of Botswana in 1978 in a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Education. She also became the first head of this University’s School of Nursing. She envisioned education programmes that would produce competent graduates and prepare nurses who would assume teaching roles. The movement of nurses to the university marked a paradigm shift in education from a procedure-oriented focus to one that supported nursing as an art and a science. Nurses were able to enhance their professional growth and development through taking courses from the allied Faculties of Science, Education, and Social Sciences. With the passing of time Professor Kupe’s leadership enabled nurses to enrol in master degrees and PhDs. It is extremely gratifying to note that nursing graduates under Professor Kupe-Mogwe are widely considered to be well-rounded nursing professionals with knowledge and competence that enables them to compete for positions in the international labour market. This was the first nursing degree programme for Black nurses in all of Africa south of the Equator (Botswana Archives & Records 2020).

Just as Isabella Hampton Robb founded the American Association (ANA) in 1896, Professor Kupe-Mogwe started the Nurses Association of Botswana (NAB) in 1969 that affiliated with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) during the congress held in Mexico in 1973 (McFarland 2019). In so doing, Professor Kupe-Mogwe was instrumental in promoting the international profile of Botswana nurses through participating in professional dialogues at international nursing forums. To meet the ICN standards, Dumela Mooki (meaning Hello Nurse) a Botswana Nurses’ Association journal, was introduced. This journal provided a much-needed platform for nursing students, nurses, and other interested stakeholders to share knowledge and ideas on nursing issues. Professor Kupe-Mogwe participated as an ICN board member representing Africa from 1981 to 1985 and later from 1989 to 1993 when she was re-elected (Botswana Archives & Records 2020). The Botswana Nurses’ Association has now transitioned to become the Botswana Nurses’ Union (BONU), covering both professional and workplace issues.

Distinguished national and international recognition

Professor Kupe-Mogwe’s contribution to nursing and midwifery in Botswana and internationally was recognised in Thailand where she was awarded a 2019 Princess Mahidol Award for the crucial role she played in strengthening health service system and leading the development of nursing and midwifery of Botswana to meet international standard (Princess Srinagarindra Award Foundation 2019). Previously, Professor Kupe-Mogwe had received Botswana Presidential Order of Honour for her efficient and devoted service to the Republic of Botswana and the region, the highest honour awarded to an individual (Botswana Press Agency 2020).

Her journey and challenges

Professor Serara Kupe-Mogwe was born, raised, and completed her primary education in the Selelo family of Bobonong in Botswana. During her time in Botswana, secondary schools were fewer and far apart.

Ambitious as she was, Professor Kupe-Mogwe crossed the border to South Africa to pursue her secondary education at Tiger Kloof, a very prestigious school in South Africa at

that time. Following matriculation, in the 1940s, she joined McCord Hospital in Durban, South Africa, where she studied a diploma in nursing and undertook midwifery training. Her exceptional performance earned her a position as a teacher, even though she did not have the teaching qualifications (Moremi 2013).

Shortly following her faculty position at McCord Hospital, Kupe-Mogwe moved to Canada where her husband was working and attained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa, where she later practised as a faculty member.

Her master’s degree and doctorate are from Columbia University Teacher’s College, in New York, USA, where she also was inducted into the Nursing Hall of Fame in 2000 which was a great honour to our distinguished nurse and midwife.

Professor Kupe-Mogwe was later acclaimed as the first Botswana woman to gain a doctorate (Moremi 2013).

After completing her first degree, Professor Kupe-Mogwe tried to return home but found that there was no suitable position available for a black woman. She then applied to Zambia and started that country’s first school for registered nurses in Kitwe. It is gratifying to know that nurses in leadership positions in Zambia are graduates of that school.

Professor Kupe-Mogwe later returned to her homeland, Botswana, in 1969, and became the first Chief Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health (McFarland 2019; Moremi 2013).

Kupe-Mogwe’s success was highly celebrated both in Botswana and in the Southern African region, but the journey to accomplish this success was not an easy one. Her book, “An Uneasy Walk to Quality: The Evolution of Black Nursing Education” (Kupe 1993) gives a “must read” insightful and accurate account of the evolution of Botswana’s healthcare system from the pre-independence era to the present.

 In particular, the struggle that she led to establish nursing as a profession independent of medicine is clearly presented.

Historically, nursing schools in the British-ruled countries of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland were accredited by the South African Nursing Council. The examinations were moderated by the National Examination Board of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland (NEBLS) (Kopper & Uys 2013).

Despite strong opposition from her counterparts in the region, Kupe-Mogwe extracted Botswana from the NEBLS so that nursing courses could be further restructured to meet the needs of Botswana. As a result, nurses in Botswana excelled in the nursing examinations (Moremi 2013).

Ethical Approval

This is a short communication article. As such, ethical approval by any authorizing body was not indicated. The interview was conducted by the author at the subject’s home with her permission on November 29, 2019.

A written approval to publish the article was granted by a family member following the subject’s death.


I have known Professor Kupe-Mogwe since 1969 when she had recently assumed position of Chief Nursing Officer in the Botswana Ministry of Health and I was a nursing student.

I got to know her more closely over my years as her student at the University of Botswana, and she continued to be my mentor and guiding light throughout my nursing career.

I have always been a great admirer of Professor Kupe-Mogwe’s achievements, her leadership, hard work, and determination to succeed. She has inspired me and many others with her guidance that success is not a product of chance or sheer luck but a product of a clear vision, hard work, determination, and perseverance.

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Professor Kupe-Mogwe on September 2, 2020, following a long illness. At that time, I was in the process of submitting this manuscript for possible publication.

The legacy she had built was eulogised by several bodies, nationally and internationally during her send-off ceremony.

Sentiments such as “Legacy Remembered” and “Botswana’s Florence Nightingale” were expressed (Mmegi 2020), and the influence her contribution will continue to make on future policy decisions was noted.

Implications for Nursing and Health Policy

The legacy that Professor Kupe-Mogwe has built has great implications for nursing education in my country and elsewhere.

Her work and achievements will be an ongoing inspiration to younger generations of nurses who will not have the opportunity to know her personally.

I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have had such an extra extraordinary mentor and role model.

“May her soul rest in eternal peace”.


The author would like to sincerely acknowledge the following for their editorial assistance: Ambassador Charles Ntwaagae (Botswana), Dr. Patricia Donohue-Porter (Adelphi University, USA), Dr. Taufila Nyamadzabo (World Bank, USA), Dr. Thapelo Selaelo (Botswana), and Dr. Sheila Shaibu (Aga Khan University, Kenya).

Author Contributions

DM designed the manuscript, collected the data, wrote the manuscript, and critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content.


*Mcfarland is Associate Professor, College of Nursing and Public Health, Adelphi University,

Garden City, NY, USA

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