'Black women can do anything,' says SA's Everest hero Saray Khumalo

"Black women can do anything."

This was the message from Saray Khumalo, the first black African woman to summit Mount Everest. Khumalo arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday morning. 

A crowd of excited supporters greeted Khumalo, who had a South African flag draped around her shoulders and carried a bouquet of flowers as she made her way to a venue where a media briefing was scheduled to be held.

"Sir [Edmund] Hillary summited this mountain in 1953... How come no African woman has done it? Is it because we are incapable? We can do anything we put our minds to," Khumalo said. 

Khumalo reached the peak of the world's highest mountain (on land) on May 16. This had been her fourth attempt at climbing Mount Everest.

Khumalo said she had embarked on her journey in 2012 to reach the seven highest summits of the world, to date reaching four. 

Not a personal quest

"It wasn't just a personal quest. It was something I embarked on in an effort to educate the African child. Everything that I have done, I've done because somebody invested in my education.

"I believe my achievement means that, in a small way, I took every African, who might have been told that they couldn't consider their pursuit, with me to the top of the world.

"I wish that this will inspire every African child, black or white, to reach their own individual Everest, whether it be homework, [or] that business that you are struggling with..."

Khumalo said it should be remembered that this had been her fourth attempt, conveying the message that one should never give up on one's aspirations. 

"A mountaineering reality is that the summit is only halfway. You still have to come down. Most people who lose their lives actually do so on the way down. We lost one of our good friends, Seamus Lawless, during the descent. I wish to convey my condolences to his family and friends." 

Lawless, 39, an Irish professor, slipped on the balcony area of the mountain while attempting to descend to Camp 4, below the peak, on May 17.

READ: Tragedy strikes as Saray Khumalo's fellow climber goes missing after slipping during Everest decent

"I encourage everyone to make the most of the time you have because life is short and death is the fate of us all. I pray that when we die, we die doing what we love, by making a difference and leaving the world a better place than how we found it."  

Khumalo thanked her team, sponsors, friends, family and supporters for helping her reach her goal.

"Mountaineering is a team sport," she said. 

The business executive and mother of two from Johannesburg has been climbing mountains for the past seven years. She has reached the summits of Mount Kilimanjaro (5 896m) in Tanzania (2012), Mera Peak (6 476m) in Nepal (2014), Lobuche East (6 119m) in Nepal (2014), the Mount Elbrus traverse (5 642m) in southern Russia (2014), and the Mount Aconcagua traverse (6 980m) in Argentina (2015), News24 reported earlier.

READ: Saray Khumalo becomes first black SA woman to conquer Mount Everest

Her previous attempts to reach the top of Mount Everest were all thwarted.

In May 2017, Khumalo had to be rescued from Mount Everest by helicopter. She had been injured during inclement weather while trying to reach the summit. She was at an altitude of 8 749m - a mere 99 metres from the Everest summit, making her the record holder of the black African women for 2017 and 2018.

In 2015, Khumalo reached Everest Camp 2, but the expedition was abandoned after an earthquake in Nepal.

In 2014, she reached the Everest Base camp, but the mountain was closed following an avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 sherpas (trained guides).

Khumalo uses climbing to raise money for good causes. So far, she has raised money to build an outdoor gym for Kids Haven worth R200 000 and converted a room into a library for the children; raised funds for The Lunch Box Fund to feed more than 60 000 kids; raised more than R800 000 for The Mandela Library Projects and built a library for Isiziba Primary School in Thembisa, Johannesburg. She continues to campaign for more libraries as she takes steps towards the seven highest peaks on the seven continents around the world.

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