20 June 2018


Mahikeng's Ditsamaanaga hikers summit Mount Kilimanjaro

by: Semphete Correspondent   date:

A group of four Mahikeng-based hikers quietly summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania two weeks ago, with each one of them climbing for a purpose.

Though there was no media attention to their excursion - something they did deliberately because of non-assuring comments they were getting about the Kilimanjaro climb - the four members of Ditsamaanaga Hiking Club still mustered the strength to conquer the highest mountain in Africa.

Led by, Jabu Lempe a 45-year-old former teacher and a pastor - Nthabiseng Manonyane, Dr Tumelo Leeuw and Keolebogile Magae came back home more determined to continue with their social upliftment projects, which each one of them included in the Kilimanjaro climb.

Dr Leeuw is a paeditrician at Mahikeng Provincial Hospital, Magae is an internal auditor at the North West Parks and Tourism Board and Manonyane is a Tourism Officer at the Department of Tourism.

Joy was evident as the four reached Uhuru Peak on the morning of Thursday 6 October, with Lempe posting on his Facebook page: "On my second attempt at reaching Uhuru Peak I was accompanied by three amazingly strong women and the director of our host company, Gosheni Safaris. The support team was led by a humble yet wise chief guide, Salum Myala". Lempe had tried summiting Mount Kilimanjaro last year, but was forced to come back at the Hans Meyer Cave, which lies at 5150m, after suffering altitude sickness.

The women climbers - on the other hand - broke into song, singing "I just can't give up now" by Mary Mary.

Dr Leeuw climbed Kilimanjaro to raise awareness about autism. In addition to being a paeditrician, she also runs a non-governmental organization (NGO) that teaches people about autism. Leeuw told Semphete that she wants to raise awareness and ultimately "create something that will improve diagnostic system and support parents of children with autism in the province".

None of the four raised a cent with the Kilimanjaro climb because they had no sponsors. Each one of them funded their own trip. "Initially we were reluctant to talk about it because we didn't even know if we can make it," said Leeuw this week. "The other problem is that the minute you mentioned Kilimanjaro people would say "what about Gugu's death?" Racing car driver Gugu Zulu died in July after encountering breathing complications when trying to summit Kilimanjaro. He was part of the Trek4Mandela team that was raising funds for sanitary towels for poor girl children. Leeuw said the Ditsamaanaga Hiking Club members, who started making plans to summit Kilimanjaro as early as April, decided to rather make this experience "a personal journey for each one of us". Ditsamaanaga encourages people to walk just for leisure, but the club has taken up some social responsibility courses such as the "shoe runs" that they do to collect school shoes and donate to poor children.

Manonyane told Semphete that, while summiting Kilimanjaro was always on her bucket list, she did this to encourage a black child. "I was walking for a black child whose mind does not believe that some things are possible," she said. She plans to open a book club in Lekaleng village to "start a reading norm among village children and boost their self confidence. In most cases they cannot do some things because of lack of confidence," she said.

She admits she got cold feet and became anxious after Zulu's death, but said that tragedy "made me want to do it even more. I searched for more information on what I should expect and prepared better. You want to say to people 'mountains do not kill people," she said. "We were raising our flags to say one of our brothers died here, but it's not Kilimanjaro that killed Gugu. It was his doorway of leaving this earth".

Dr Leeuw said while the excursion was generally enjoyable, it was the night that they summited that was tough. "We all remembered Gugu, especially when we got to the camp where he had complications. Somewhere halfway up that mountain it really hit us that it doesn't matter who you are.. there's no helicopter that will come and rescue you. But somehow we found the strength to make it. As Gugu's wife has already mentioned the medical facilities there are not up to scratch," she said.

Magae walked for young couples, but even after summiting Kilimanjaro, she still cannot describe the experience. "It doesn't feel like it happened, it just doesn't feel real. I would go back, but I don't think I would summit again".

Lempe praised the porters who were with them throughout the climb. "The porters think for you as if they've known you throughout your life. They sing wholeheartedly to encourage you. That's why there's a request that you should have at least $150 for tips. Those guys work hard," he said.

He singled out chief guide Myala, saying: "Last year he was with me when I ended at 5 150m and he said 'the mountain will wait for you to come again and I will be here to guide you up to Uhuru Peak".

But he had a stern warning: "Altitude sickness is not some sick joke, so please consult your doctor before and prepare well".