University has lost a vibrant, dedicated administrator

SHE was vibrant, ever smiling and always smartly dressed. A dedicated, jovial and hardworking employee. An organised and well-groomed leader. She was a problem-solver. Honest, gentle but firm in dealing with her visitors. She always displayed confidence when communicating. She was in a class by herself.

This is how her immediate supervisor, colleagues and workmates of the late Personal Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, Ms Portia Ngwenya, will remember her for.

She was shockingly taken away on Sunday the 14th of March 2021, just seven months before celebrating her 42nd birth.

“The death was totally unexpected as Portia and I had completed the week’s work by reviewing it and planning for the week ahead as usual on Friday afternoon. To learn that on Sunday morning she suddenly had been taken ill at home, been rushed to the hospital, never to come out alive was difficult to swallow,” said the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Mqhele E. Dlodlo, her immediate supervisor.

“Portia was in a class by herself in the way she worked effectively and professionally under pressure. The VC's Office can be a pressure cooker, and if you are not prepared for that, it would be the wrong office to be in,” he said.

The Vice-Chancellor said her late PA networked very well with all key offices that impact on the work of the VC and excelled in matters that required “thinking in other terms”, way beyond the routine office management one would expect of secretarial staff.

“In all of this, she would continue to smile in her warm way that said without a word, ‘How can I assist you?’ She was honest, gentle but firm, and highly ethical PA,” said Prof Dlodlo, the second Vice-Chancellor that Portia worked under.

He said Portia will be remembered for her initiative, self-organisation, understanding of corporate culture, and her ability to work unwaveringly towards the intended results even under difficult conditions.

The Senior Secretary in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Mrs Rosemary Mashavira, said it feels like a dream that her office mate is no more.

Mrs Mashavira described Portia as an open minded person, a leader and professional who observed work ethic to the last dot.

“She made sure that we don’t become the last in doing things and contributed whole heartedly in making sure the Vice-Chancellor does not miss anything important. She was very strict on privacy and confidentiality,” said Mrs Mashavira.

She said Portia was a leader who initiated the setting up of the PAs communication group at NUST and with all other local universities.

PAs at NUST were at a loss of words to describe how they received the news of the passing away of their counterpart.

The Personal Assistant to the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Academic Affairs, Mrs Esther Jasi, said she was disappointed and pained when she received the sad news.

“I worked closely with her when she took up the post of PA in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office. She was friendly and we communicated very well. She was good at planning and organising her work. She was firm in dealing with her delegations and she respected her superiors,” said Mrs Jasi adding that Portia displayed confidence when communicating with all stakeholders at different levels.

The Personal Assistant to the Registrar, Mrs Sithabile Mathe described the death of Portia as shocking and unbelievable.

“Portia was vibrant, ever smiling and always smartly dressed. She was a problem-solver and a hard worker.

“What I learnt from her work was that she did it diligently; always making sure that people were assisted in whatever they requested for. She will be remembered for always giving advice and making sure that NUST does better than other sister Universities,” said Mrs Mathe.

Personal Assistants to Vice-Chancellors in Zimbabwean universities, were also saddened by the untimely passing on of a dear friend and colleague.

“It is with great pain that we extend our most heartfelt condolences to the Ngwenya family and the NUST Community at large on this sad loss. May the good God Almighty provide care, comfort and give peace to you in such a time as this.  May you find comfort in the Lord – the Good Shepherd and Helper,” said the PAs in a statement. 

They described Portia as a wonderful, likeable individual who understood the word ‘team’.

“Her kindness, contribution and compassion humbled us in so many different aspects. A good golden heart has stopped beating. A free-spirit, an ever smiling and jovial person is now gone.  

“With the long hours on the job, colleagues often become like second family. We had become a true family and the effects of her departure are already felt,” said the PAs. 

Her family described her as a smart, intelligent and hard working woman with a heart of gold and kindness that touched a lot of people.

“Portia was a go-getter; she knew what she wanted in life and would work hard to get it. She loved interacting with people from all walks of life and was always cheerful. She believed in the phrase ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’, and lived by the phrase. It was evident by the way she presented herself,” said Ms Winnie Khuma, a sister to Portia.

Portia joined NUST as a Secretary in the Human Resources Department on the 19th of October 2010.

She was appointed as Acting Chief Secretary on the 1st of December 2010 to the 28th of February 2011 in the Information and Communication Technology Services (ICTS) Department.

In May 2011, she was appointed as Acting Chief Secretary in the Registrar’s Department before being appointed as a Secretary in the Deputy Registrar – Academic’s Office in July 2011.

She was promoted to Personal Assistant in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office on the 3rd of January 2013, a position she held at the time of her passing on.

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