Saray Khumalo

First black African female to summit Mount Everest

Saray launched Summits with a Purpose, a non-profit organisation that focuses on literacy and educating young people while uplifting economically marginalized communities in Africa. She now climbs mountains all over the world, raising money for underprivileged children.

“We all have our own Everest,” Saray notes. “It may not be a snowy peak,
but we all need to ask ourselves what we are doing to leave a legacy for the next generation of Africans.”

Saray Khumalo has the most beautiful smile. Her smile has graced the tops of mountains and the centres of stages. This executive in financial services and mother of two is also the first black African female to summit Mount Everest and ski to the South Pole. She now helps others to reach their goals as an executive coach and motivational speaker. She’s received numerous awards for her efforts, including a Ministerial Excellence Award in 2018 and GSports woman of the year 2019. That’s something to smile about, but there’s even more to Saray than meets the eye.

The journey begins


As part of a church youth group called Pathfinders, Saray fell in love with nature and adventure. “I find solace and peace in the mountains,” she affirms. “It’s a place for introspection, to be in nature and away from everything else.”

Today Saray uses her passion to raise awareness and funding for projects that benefit underprivileged children. “I come from a township and was raised by a single mother who put a heavy emphasis on education as a key to success and independence,” Saray describes. “That’s what opened doors for me. I am so grateful for the sacrifices that were made for me to be where I am today, and if I can do something to help others reach their full potential in a small way, it would mean the world to me.”

On top of the world


After university Aaniyah worked for the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), based in Cape Town, for ten years. “It was an amazing opportunity, and a platform for me to learn and grow,” Aaniyah reflects. The job wasn’t simply about conservation, but about science and collaboration and marketing and fundraising. “It taught me what is required to really ‘do’ conservation,” Aaniyah observes. “It shaped me as a person.” At WWF, Aaniyah worked her way up to acting head of the marine and freshwater programmes in South Africa, whilst also completing her master’s degree in Marine Management.

Summiting stereotypes

But she summitted more than a mere mountain. She also overcame stereotypes about what she could or couldn’t do because of her gender and the colour of her skin. “I was often the only person who looked like me on these expeditions,” she smiles.

Knowing that, she uses her platform to raise awareness and funding to assist others like her in the future. “Underrepresentation of black women in the sport and lack of professional sponsorship mean extra sacrifices have to be made to reach the goals,” she explains. Thanks to people like Saray, that’s starting to change.

The next generation

Not only is Saray making changes in the way we perceive what women of colour can do, she is also making changes in the lives of disadvantaged children. As a philanthropist, she places special emphasis on educational causes. “I see education as an equaliser, a way out of poverty and possibly abuse that women sometimes face,” Saray maintains. “An educated woman contributes to her family and educates the next generation, creating a better community, country and continent.”

In 2013, Saray launched Summits with a Purpose, a non-profit organisation that focuses on literacy and educating young people while uplifting economically marginalised communities in Africa. With their campaigns, they raise money to build libraries and educate children across South Africa. Saray is an ambassador for ischoolAfrica and Mandela Libraries. “It’s so humbling to be doing work in the name of this great man. He set such a strong example for all of us that the power of change is in our hands.”

Saray also founded an NGO called Expeditionists, which focuses on bringing unemployed youths into the outdoor industry, stimulating education and fuelling local economies.

New heights


Saray will keep climbing mountains. “We should always aim higher, in everything that we do,” she says. “We all have our own Everest.
It may not be a snowy peak, but we all need to ask ourselves, ‘Am I doing the best work that will leave a legacy for the next generation of Africans,
so that they don’t have to feel like they don’t belong?’”

This Changemaker has found her voice and is determined to set the stage for others to follow her. “Keep on your trail,” she advises.
“Keep working hard. And keep pushing boundaries.”