Saray Khumalo reached the summit of Mt Everest in 2019 on her fourth attempt. | Image: supplied.
Saray Khumalo reached the summit of Mt Everest in 2019 on her fourth attempt. | Image: supplied.

The first black woman to summit Mount Everest now wants to tackle the digital divide in SA

By Norman Cloete Time of article published Oct 10, 2020

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If we give children the digital tools, we can literally change the future of the next generation. This is exactly what Saray Khumalo hopes to achieve when she attempts to break the Guinness World Record by spinning on a bicycle for eight hours later this month.

Khumalo, who became the first black woman to conquer Mount Everest, now wants to raise R1 million to build nine digital libraries across the country. And for Khumalo, taking on the digital space seemed like the next logical thing to do.

“Covid-19 has shown us that children can be left behind if they don’t have the tools needed to compete globally. My 15-year-old son is not just competing with children in South Africa, but with kids in other parts of the world who have every technological advantage,” she said.

Her passion for social change was inspired by her grandfather, whose philosophy was: “A life not lived in service, is a life wasted.”

And her enduring spirit to overcome adversity is clearly demonstrated in the four attempts it took before she successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest.

Khumalo first set out to conquer the iconic mountain in 2014. But after just three days of climbing, 16 Sherpas were killed when an avalanche struck causing the team to abandon their hopes of summitting Everest. She was back on the mountain in 2015, but tragedy struck again. An earth quake in Nepal killed 25 people on the mountain and thousands more on the ground.

“I was on the glacier at the time. For me, it wasn’t just about the climb. I have learnt that success is not within our comfort zone,” she said.

In 2017, Khumalo again faced the mighty mountain, and this time she got within 99m of the summit, but again, it was not to be.

“I lost consciousness. There was a problem with my oxygen supply between camp four and the summit. At that stage of the climb, you have to sign an indemnity form and say your last goodbyes to loved ones as many people don’t make it back. With the oxygen problems and battling winds of between 45 and 60 kilometres, I again had to give up on my dreams. Success for me also means living to climb another day,” she said.

In 2019, a determined Khumalo set off once again to battle the mighty Mount Everest, and this time, she triumphed.

“My son kept asking me when I was going back to the mountain, and when I heard that no black African woman had ever summited Mount Everest, I gave it another shot.

“Three weeks before I reached the top, my friend, who encouraged me to return to the mountain, passed away, so it was extra special for me when I finally made it. It wasn’t about achieving this remarkable feat, but it meant I could raise more money for education.

“My eldest son wrote a song for me when I came home, and that was enough of an accolade,” said the former advertising executive. Khumalo was able to open five libraries across South Africa, and she shows no signs of slowing down.

“I have already raised funds to open a digital library in Mpumalanga which I am pleased to say will go live on October 15. But that is separate from the record attempt,” she said.

When she’s not climbing the highest mountain in the world, she mentors matriculants, works as an executive at Momentum and is also a transformation coach.

“The one thing I have learnt is that we are but a speck in the bigger scheme of things. Being ordinary is a choice, but we are all so uniquely extraordinary,” she said.

For her World Guinness record attempt, Khumalo partnered with IschoolAfrica, which has been aiming to cross the digital divide since 2009.

Director Michelle Lissoos said she first heard Khumalo speak at a Ted-talk and was instantly inspired.

“I just love Saray. Every time I speak to her, I love her more. I remember I was so nervous to approach her, but when I did and felt her warmth, a bond was formed,” Lissoos said.

The duo admitted that their passion for education and social change through technology is what got them to attempt this world record together.

“Saray and I believe that our children deserve the best technological resources for success. And we have found the best in her. Only the best for the best,” Lissoos beamed.

Ischool Africa has connections with 214 schools nationally. Lissoos said the organisation had trained more than 3 000 educators and reached more than 100 000 learners.

“During covid, we saw private schools, immediately go digital. A lack of access to resources, data and devices means that most kids will be left behind and we cannot let that happen,” she said.

Lissoos will be Khumalo’s biggest supporter on the day. ¡ Khumalo and her team go live live at 6.30am on October 25 from four Planet fitness gyms across South Africa. For more on IschoolAfrica and Khumalo’s record attempt, visit their website.

The Saturday Star

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