21 July 2015

Trek4Mandela team returns victorious

Exactly a week since departing for their trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, the executive team that formed part of this year’s Trek4Mandela returned victorious to Johannesburg on 20 July.

The Trek4Mandela team has been welcomed home, having successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro

The umbrella cover is you are doing it for a good cause – it’s for Mandela – but when you go up there, there’s a personal challenge that says you have to achieve it. – Thulani Nzima, CEO of South African Tourism

Of the 37 climbers who attempted to summit the mountain, 30 were successful, and whatever fatigue the team that returned must have felt was clearly overshadowed by elation and relief. The team was welcomed home to cheers and applause by family, friends and supporters.

"When all is said and done," said Thulani Nzima, South African Tourism CEO and one of the Trek4Mandela summiteers, "it's very exciting, but during the process of doing it, I can tell you, it's not child's play ... The umbrella cover is you are doing it for a good cause – it's for Mandela – but when you go up there, there's a personal challenge that says you have to achieve it because everything will move from the legs, to the heart, and then it's left with the brain to carry you through."

South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima says that the trek was both a charitable and personal journey. Image by South African Tourism

South African Tourism CEO Thulani Nzima says that the trek was both a charitable and personal journey. Image by South African Tourism

At a brief gathering at OR Tambo International Airport attended by the climbers, their family and friends, sponsors, partners and members of the media, Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, acknowledged and honoured each and every climber. He told individual anecdotes that ranged from the heartwarming to the humorous, and included stories of green-and-white buses that the exhausted climbers hallucinated into existence in order to take them down the mountain. In the recounting of these tales, Hatang intimated that, in the space of a week, this team of friends and colleagues, associates and strangers, had been forever bonded by their experience and by the cause for which they were climbing.

This year, Trek4Mandela was undertaken in support of Caring4Girls, an organisation that supplies sanitary towels to young girls in remote areas or from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to keep them in school while they menstruate. The programme also undertakes to demystify myths relating to menstruation, and to provide accessible information and advice.

A large group of people gather to welcome the climbers. Image by South African Tourism

A large group of people gather to welcome the climbers. Image by South African Tourism

"For me, it's a very special deed that one would have to do, but what made it more special was the cause," said Hatang. "All of us know that for as long as there are girls who cannot go to school, who cannot afford to go to school, because of a lack of something that we take for granted, that is the simple thing of sanitary towels, we can never relax. So, I think all of us were encouraged by the deeds of South Africans who donated and those who participated."

The Mayor of Ekhuruleni, Mondli Gungubele, also addressed the climbers, commending them for "conscientising the whole world that there must be no human beings who are marginalised because they have got no resources, because they belong to poor families ... You were actually enduring together in pursuit of the South African dream. We love you guys."

South African Tourism Board member Thebe Ikalafeng, another member of the climbing party, saw the experience as a journey in Africans claiming and celebrating their continent and its resources. "As an African," he said, "it's important to be able to summit in your own continent before you summit anywhere else. And to me, that's what this means. It means Africans themselves are recognising the excellence that exists [on] the African continent ... Africans need to celebrate [Kilimanjaro], and part of celebrating it is going to these places and enjoying some of these things."

South African Tourism board member Thebe Ikalafeng sees this as a uniquely African experience. Image by South African Tourism

South African Tourism board member Thebe Ikalafeng sees this as a uniquely African experience. Image by South African Tourism

The team was guided by accomplished mountaineer and expedition guide Sibusiso Vilane, the first black African to climb the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents. "It was a wonderful expedition," he commented, "and I really thank [the climbers] again so profoundly and dearly for taking the action ... It [works] quite well when you tie these two together: Nelson Mandela and Mount Kilimanjaro. These are giants that we can actually use to actually change the world and make it what we want it to be. And that is what we were doing by taking action, and actually inspiring hope and change, in support of this man who had this vision." 

Immense gratitude was expressed to sponsors, partners, families, friends and those who donated via the SMS line, all of whom had made the expedition possible.

Caring4Girls' Richard Mabaso said, "[The climbers] worked really, really hard to make sure that girls are in school. I heard some of them saying, when it got to a point of giving up, they said, the reason why I can't give up is because I'm doing this for the girl child ... We have a challenge that Madiba has left for us, to make sure that whatever we do, we must make sure that people who are less privileged benefit and, beyond that, they succeed."

Trek4Mandela clearly took on this challenge head first, heart first and feet first, and there is little doubt that the final contribution to Caring4Girls will be substantial.

To contribute R30 to Caring4Girls, you can SMS "Girlchild" to 42513.

Loved ones gather to welcome back their adventurous family members. Image by South African Tourism

Loved ones gather to welcome back their adventurous family members. Image by South African Tourism

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