KATHMANDU – The first black African woman to conquer Mount Everest urged fellow Africans to “never give up” on their dreams on Thursday as she set herself a new challenge to scale the highest peaks on seven continents.
South African Saray N’kusi Khumalo stood on top of the world’s highest mountain on her fourth attempt last week after earlier expeditions were foiled by frostbite, an avalanche and a deadly earthquake.
Now she has set her sights on becoming the first black African woman to complete the so-called Seven Summits – the highest peaks in North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Antarctica and Australasia – and reach the North and South Poles.
Conquering Everest means Khumalo is already more than halfway there – she has also scaled Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in South America and Russia’s Mount Elbrus.
Speaking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Kathmandu, the 47-year-old e-commerce executive described her latest climb as a “humbling experience” riddled with challenges, from finding sponsors to arranging funds and logistics.
But she said it had “given me confidence that the rest can be done”.
“It has taken a long time for a woman of my colour to step on top of Everest,” she said, urging fellow Africans to follow their dreams and inspire future generations.
“Never give up,” she said. “Always try to be better than what you were earlier.”
It is a mantra Khumalo has followed herself.
Her first attempt on Everest in 2014 was aborted when an avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides, leading to the brief climbing season being cancelled.
The following year a massive earthquake triggered another avalanche that killed 18 people at Everest base camp and forced Khumalo and hundreds of other climbers to abandon their bid.
In 2017, she had to turn back from a distance barely 200 metres (656 feet) from the top after getting frostbite.
About 5,000 climbers have ascended Everest since it was first scaled by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953, but only about 550 of them were women.
The eldest of seven sisters, Khumalo grew up with a love of adventure that her mother encouraged, enjoying hiking and camping – activities that eventually led to mountaineering.
So far, she has managed to raise about $80,000 for children’s education and libraries. She also supports a foundation that takes care of orphans, providing them with education, shelter and food.
“I want to do more of this to support children,” she said. “Even if one child benefits from my work, that keeps me going.”
(Editing by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji and Claire Cozens / Thomson Reuters Foundation)