Zuki and Noma, domestic workers from the Mandela Park informal settlement (squatter camp) in Cape Town, celebrating on the summit of Elbrus. "When we reached the summit, we blew our vuvuzela (South African horn) and took as many photos as possible. Zuki and I were both doing it for our friends and family. Especially the women." Image courtesy of the team (click to enlarge).
Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokotho (you strike the woman, you strike a rock). The three women hope to inspire proud African ladies to stay strong. Evelina with Nelson Mandela after she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Image courtesy of the team (click to enlarge).
Zuki and Noma with South Africas flag on the summit of Elbrus. Exhausting and at times terrifying, the women name this as the peak experience of their lives. Image courtesy of the team (click to enlarge).
A world apart: The first black woman Everest summiteer was American Harvard student Sophia Danenberg, 34 climbing with IMG last spring. Image courtesy of Sophia's website.
African lady climbers in preps for Everest, "Keep on dancing!" (Video)

Posted: Sep 20, 2006 05:47 am EDT
(MountEverest.net) Few noticed when American Harvard grad Sophia Danenberg, 34, became the first black woman to step on the highest point on Earth earlier this year. Sophia seemed pretty unemotional herself, So I was like, cool, I made it, she told Chicago Reader mag. I have to get this oxygen mask fixed and get off this mountain.

Judging from their Elbrus summit video, chances are Zuki and Noma will make a bigger impact. <cutoff>

On September 2, the two black South African women, domestic workers from the Mandela Park informal settlement (squatter camp) in Cape Town, South Africa, boarded a plane destined for Russia, passports in hands and Roubles in pockets. They were about to make history by being the first black South African women to summit the highest mountain in Europe Mount Elbrus.

<b>"To be a black person in Russia is another thing"</b>

Anyone who knows just a little about Africa understands the big deal. It's clear that the top of the Earth is no longer the exclusive domain of a priviliged few - a new world is dawning.

Zukiswa Matamo and Nomawethu Nika are two of three women participating a groundbreaking project called Isicongo, which will see brave black, athletic women attempting to summit the highest peak on each of the seven continents, the Seven Summits. Ultimately, Zuki, Noma and the 3rd participant, Evelina Tshabalala intend to be the first black African women in the world to summit Mount Everest.

I read about Russia in school, but never dreamed I would go there. To be a black person in Russia is another thing. People stared and wanted to take photographs. Some even told us we were the most beautiful women they had ever seen! says Zuki.

<b>"It was freezing cold and just snow for miles"</b>

The Elbrus climb took 3 days with acclimatization, We had hardly any water, and could only eat instant food. It was also freezing cold, explains Noma.

When asked about the day of the summit (Sept 8), Zuki excitedly describes the experience: We woke up at 3.30am, ate breakfast, and set out. Noma and I had to quickly get used to wearing thick snow boots and heavy crampons, which make walking quite difficult. We were feeling bad from the altitude. We were exhausted, but there was nowhere to sit, just snow for miles."

"At one point Noma fell down, and I got to her as quickly as possible, praying she was alright. But we got her onto her feet and kept walking. When the guide told us we were finally getting close to the summit, I broke down in tears. We were so tired, I didn't think we could make it. From that point, the guide made us take ten steps and then stop for ten seconds to breathe. Sometimes I cheated and only took six!

<b>You strike the woman, you strike a rock</b>

Noma explains that both her and Zuki were crying by the time they approached the summit, but were encouraged to keep going by two fellow mountain climbers who were descending. When we reached the summit, we blew our vuvuzela (South African horn) and took as many photos as possible. Zuki and I were both doing it for our friends and family. Especially the women. Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokotho (you strike the woman, you strike a rock). Their support and encouragement and the thought of telling them that we climbed the highest mountain in Europe, are what helped us during those last few metres, says Noma.

<b>Peak experience of their lives</b>

On 9 September, Zuki and Noma reached the highest point in Europe, together with their trainer, Jean-Marie Robinson. It had taken them ten hours to reach the summit. They then had a further three and a half hours of descent, to reach their camp where they could spend the night.

Exhausting and at times terrifying, the women name this as the peak experience of their lives. All three of the women participating in the Isicongo project are now one step closer to their goal seeing the world, uninterrupted, from its highest and most majestic peaks.

<i>Since Russia, the Isicongo team are now preparing for Aconcagua in South America which they will attempt straight after Christmas. This will be their third continental summit, and with each climb taking them closer and closer to Everest, these women - domestic workers from the Mandela Park informal settlement (squatter camp) in Cape Town, South Africa - are establishing themselves as South Africa's next cultural icons.

Sophia Danenberg, 34, summited Everest on May 19, 2006 from the South Col Route, as member in IMG team. Sophia, resident in Connecticut , is a Harvard University student, currently pursing a master in economics. She had previously climbed on the American continent (including a summit on Aconcagua and an attempt on Denali), and summited Ama Dablam in November, 2005.</i>


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