SA teen ready to tackle last degree

2011-09-17 17:00

Lying 89° south with the hottest temperature in summer only a frosty -30°C to -60°C, Antarctica is the driest, coldest, windiest continent on earth and has the highest altitude.

It is also home to possibly one of the most gruelling tests of endurance in the galaxy.

Only a few have dared the expedition. Yet a South African matriculant will attempt to finish it, making him the youngest black African to ski to the South Pole.

Nzuzo Mnikathi (19) will join a six-man team to ski the 111km epic trek, also known as the “last degree”, a challenge possibly bigger than his final exams.

“I feel excited but at the same time I realise that it is a huge challenge,” Nzuzo told City Press.

He is an ambassador for a non-profit organisation called The Unlimited Child.

The organisation, which has been running since 2008, offers specialised toys and caregiver training to crèches in rural and underdeveloped areas.

Currently, it services 200 crèches around the Valley of a Thousand Hills near Durban. But it eventually plans to reach 1.25 million children across South Africa by 2016.

Terez Taylor, the public relations officer for the organisation, said: “Our organisation was built upon the research that zero to seven years is the most important for a child’s development.

“Proper stimulation in these ages is critical for children to reach their full potential. But the reality is many crèches have one gogo looking after as many as 20 children.

“The children sit there with no stimulation or educational benefit. The link to Nzuzo is that we needed an ambassador to raise awareness on this project by taking an average boy from Pietermaritzburg and giving him the opportunity to realise his full potential, we wanted to send the message that all South African children can reach their full potential too given the opportunity,” she added.”

For Nzuzo, making it through the rigorous selection process to be the last man standing to clench the title as the first ambassador for The Unlimited Child, is by far the hardest challenge he has had to overcome.

He lost his father in 2001 at age nine. His mother died two years later.

Nzuzo, who towers at 1.9m, said: “Growing up, my gran always told me that life is like a page. You are never sad or happy for the rest of your life.

“She taught me respect. Self-respect and respect for other people. And three things that have helped me achieve that is church, sport and school.”

His grandmother Ivy Mnikathi said she was delighted with the man he had become.

“It was very hard when his mother died. I took them over not working. And it was a big struggle to get a government grant to support him and his brother. But I’m very proud of him,” she said.

Not only will it be Nzuzo’s first time outside the country, it will be his first trip outside KZN. He jets from South Africa to Punta Arenas in Chile on January 9 next year.

From there he flies to Union Iglesias, which is the base point for the challenge, to start the 14-day epic on January 14.

His only training currently, while he concentrates on his trial exams, is walking about 10km to and from school. He also plays soccer and goes to gym.

But come December when the matric examinations are all behind him, his training will be intensified.

Taylor said: “On the fitness level, we plan to put a harness and tyres which he will drag on the sand along the beach.

“There will be a lot of walking and jogging. But he will also get mental training from Sean Wisedale.”

Wisedale is the first African to have climbed the the seven summits – the highest mountains on each of the Earth’s seven continents.

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