Saray Khumalo: I climb alone with the hopes and dreams of many

The first African black woman to summit Mount Everest shared her motivations at the CHRO Awards.

On the evening of 27 November, the first ever CHRO Awards took place at Summer Place in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Some of South Africa's leading CHROs were nominated in the months leading up to the event and the winners were announced at the 'Oscars of HR'. 

Talking to the excellence of these nominees and the theme of the night, "Your sky is the limit", the first black African woman to have summited Mount Everest, Saray Khumalo, shared her story or getting to the "top". 

In December, Saray will leave for Antarctica in a quest to finalise the Grand Slam. MC for the evening Loyiso Madinga asked if she knew that Antarctica was "like Woolworths all day". 

Saray explained that the Grand Slam is a quest to climb the seven highest peaks across seven continents, and then reach the North and South Pole. There are only 67 people around the world who have done it, and none of them are an African woman – black or white. 

To stay up to date with her adventures, Saray has made a Facebook page called 'Summits with a Purpose'. 

"I decided, after climbing Kilomonjaro in 2012 and raising money for a home in Benoni, that I wanted to climb and make a difference," Saray said. “The page tracks where I am and updates people in terms of where my headspace is. It's about taking people on the journey with me. Some people are inspired to do it and some are inspired to..." 

"Watch from the safety of their home," Loyiso interrupted, to a great deal or laughter from the audience. 

As a teenager, Saray used to be a part of a club called Pathfinders, which was almost like a Scouts club. "We used to go camping and although they made us cook, clean up, make our own shelters and left us in the bush, I absolutely loved it," she said. "For a while I stopped, but when I turned 40 I wanted to go back so that I could get my sons into it." 

She explained that she suggested camping to her church and the parents asked whether there would be a chalet or a pool. “So I thought it was just a bit too watered down in terms of skills that kids need in terms of survival. If they're in trouble, how can they save themselves? There won't be a phone or internet, "she said. 

“So I went back to what I knew. I think what made it more attractive to me is the fact that I could do something that I love and I could make a difference in the process. ” 

Loyiso asked Saray what she could tell the executives gathered in the room about the power of failure after she tried three times to summit Mount Everest without success. She answered that in 2014, 16 sherpas died and the mountain was closed so she had to go back home. People told her that "you tried, this is not your thing." 

“In 2014 I had a lot of supporters. In 2015 they were reduced and in 2017 they were almost non-existent, ”she said. "But when I landed at OR Tambo after summiting in 2019 there was a big party."

She explained that with every attempt she learned something and that she was excited to put it into practice when she went back to try again. "I don't see them as failures," she said. "Failure is when you fail to learn from the experience." 

However, Saray is not climbing for herself, but with a purpose. 

"I believe I am where I am because of education," she explained. “I believe education will level the playing field. We constantly talk about how the world is becoming a global village, how are we making sure that the next generation of Africans are not second-class citizens in this global village.” 

She feels that, as experts in different fields, people need to shoot for the stars in everything they do to pave the way for the next generation.  

“For me, Everest and all these mountains have amazing obstacles. "I have to call people around the world to get tips on what I need to do," she said. "So I believe the next generation of climbers should learn from my mistakes and my successes and take it a level higher." 

The most recent set of expeditions are raising money for Education for All, which is an initiative by Regenesys Foundation. "It's an attempt to try and get young youths who have finished matric and want to go further in terms of getting degrees but can't afford them, get degrees at only R500 a month," she explained. "My attempt is to raise the R500 a month over three years so that about 300 students can get a degree." 

It is, however, not for free. She explained that once these youth get their degrees Education 4 All gets jobs for the youth. They need to then pay back the money, which is used to educate others. 

"I climb alone with the hopes and dreams of many," she concluded. 

Read more about the evening: