Everest beckons for black women climbers

In a month the Everest climbing season gets under way as summit hopefuls begin their trek up the world’s highest peak. But after three attempts at Everest, Saray Khumalo will be giving this year a miss.

There are unlikely to be any black South African women on Everest this year, despite an effort by the Sport and Recreation Ministry to fund such an expedition. So far, over 30 South Africans have conquered Everest, but as yet no black woman has done so.

In Swaziland, Katlego Letheo hikes up a hill every morning, then in the evenings she trains in the gym. Like Khumalo, she wants to be fit just in case the call comes that the ministry has decided at the last minute to fund an all black women team to tackle Everest. But, that call hasn’t come. Letheo has tried contacting the department, but her calls have gone unanswered.

“Maybe because the new minister is a woman, she will help us,” she says.

During the budget vote for 2016/2017 the then minister of sport and recreation Fikile Mbalula said as part of women empowerment, money would be set aside for an Everest expedition.The new minister Thokozile Xasa has only been in her job two weeks, and so far it’s unclear if the women’s Everest summit will be a priority. Letheo and Khumalo told of how they both sat down with the department and the decision was to make a woman summit attempt during the 2018 season.

Letheo has three women climbers whom she believes should be on a team to tackle Everest: herself, Khumalo and Tumi Mphahlele. But as they wait, there is always the chance that a privately-funded black South African female climber might try to tackle the summit this year, although they are not aware of anyone planning to do this.

Next year Khumalo plans to be back. “The department has reneged on their promise, but I’m happy to save up to try it next year,” she says. Khumalo made it to camp four last year, which sits at an altitude of 7950m. But the Zambian-born climber had to turn back when she developed frostbite on her fingers. Back in South Africa, she has time to reflect on her three failed attempts.

“On my first attempt, I now realise I needed more experience in climbing peaks above 7000m,” she says.

Her second attempt failed when Everest was closed to climbers following the Nepal Earthquake of 2015.

“Now I have got to go back, as I have unfinished business,” she points out.

SOUTH AFRICAWomen in Africa
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