Motivational and inspirational speaker, mountaineer and expedition guide and leader Sibusiso was born at Shongwe Mission in Mpumalanga, South Africa. His South African father and Swazi mother moved the family to Swaziland and that’s where Sibu was eventually schooled (from the age of 11). After a stint as a labourer, and drawing on his experienced as a goatherd, Sibu began his working career as a game ranger in Swaziland in 1993. In 1996 he met John Doble who became a great friend and benefactor, and who was instrumental in finding the necessary sponsorship for Sibusiso's Everest summit expedition.
Sibusiso started climbing in 1996 by summitting peaks in the Drakensberg. In 1999 he summitted Kilimanjaro and went on to the Himalayas in 2002, successfully climbing Pokalde, Lobujé and Island Peak, all of which are over 6 000 metres high, as part of his training for the Everest expedition.
In March 2003, Sibusiso set off for the Himalayas again in his quest to be the first black African to summit earth's largest and most fearsome mountain, Everest, the Queen of the Himalayas. He summitted successfully on 26 May 2003.
On that day, South African President Thabo Mbeki congratulated him on his achievement and grit. “In this, he has shown the heights we can all scale in life if we put our shoulder to the wheel and work at things without flagging. Sibusiso, you have done us proud!” (In 2006 Sibusiso was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga (Bronze) by President Thabo Mbeki. Technically he can sign his name 'Sibusiso Vilane, OIB'.)
In 2005 Sibusiso reached the summit of Everest again with Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Alex Harris after accessing the peak from the North Ridge - the more difficult and statistically less-successful side. This achievement meant that he is the first black African to climb the world's highest peak twice and by two different routes. Three children's charities benefitted from his climb: The Birth to Twenty Research Programme at Wits University, the Africa Foundation and the SOS Children's Village in Swaziland.
Sibusiso is one of a handful of South Africans, and the first black African, to achieve the feat of climbing each of the Seven Summits, the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
1. Kilimanjaro (Africa) 1999
2. Everest (Asia) 2003 and 2005
3. Aconcagua (South America) 2006
4. Elbrus (Europe) 2006
5. Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania) 2006
6. Vinson (Antarctica) 2006
7. Denali/McKinley (North America) 2008
On 17 January 2008, Sibu and his Team Extreme partner, Alex Harris, became the first South Africans to walk to the South Pole completely unassisted. In early 2012 Sibu completed the three poles ‘challenge’ when he trekked to the North Pole. (The Three Poles are the North Pole, the South Pole and Everest.)
Sibusiso’s irrepressible spirit and infectious enthusiasm for life inspires and uplifts people of all backgrounds and circumstances, and especially children. As a professional speaker, his message is simple: every person has their own “Everest” to climb. Whether you’re prepared for it or not, it’s there - challenging you to reach the top. And if he can do that in the most dangerous and inhospitable of conditions and against all the odds so, he suggests, can you.
Since 2006, Sibusiso has been the African ambassador for Lifeline Energy (formerly the Free Play Foundation) - see www.lifelineenergy.org. He dedicated the 1,113 kilometres he trekked to the South Pole, in some of the worst conditions imaginable, to the children of South Africa. In May 2008, as a result of this generous act and hundreds of sponsors supporting Sibu, Lifeline Energy was able to provide 300 Lifeline radios to children from the Nkomazi district, where Sibu was born.
"The future entirely depends on the education of children, their access to information to broaden their thinking and understanding of the ever-changing and challenging world" says Sibu.
Sibusiso founded a running club called Born to Win. He has also hosted a radio show 'My Climb, Your Climb' on 1485 Radio Today in which he interviewed black achievers about the challenges they faced and overcame in their careers and lives. He was also patron of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Leadership Group.
Sibusiso is married to Nomsa and is the proud father of four. He supports the educational needs of three young girls in honour of those who contributed to his own education when his parents couldn’t afford it.
On Thursday December 2011 Sibu was introduced to the Queen of England at a reception at Buckingham Palace. The reception was held to acknowledge those involved in mountaineering, adventurer and exploration. Also present was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a great friend of Sibu.
In January 2012, and again in 2013, Sibusiso successfully guided a team of South Africans up Mount Aconcagua. This is the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, the highest in South America and one of the seven summits. In 2012 he helped five of the team members to the summit of this mountain including South Africa’s youngest person to summit Aconcagua (at age fifteen).
In 2012 Sibusiso became a fully-fledged member of the British Alpine Club.
Sibusiso has become the only black South African to complete the grand slam of adventuring known as the Three Poles Challenge: Which is reaching the summit of Everest, South and North Pole. Sibu’s last achievement of the three, the North Pole, took place in April 2012.
In 2012 Sibusiso was included in the ‘Green Book 'of South Africa's 100 Most Influential People in Sport’ at a function hosted by Minister Fikile Mbalula of the Department of Sport and Recreation.
In April 2013 Sibusiso Vilane teamed up with legendary long-distance runner Bruce Fordyce to run the African-X trail run in the Cape.
On 2 June 2013 Sibusiso ran his fifth Comrades Marathon in aid of the 46664 Bangle Initiative. For more about the work of this charity, please see www.46664bangles.com.
In July 2013 Sibusiso summitted Mount Kilimanjaro with Richard Mabaso and Joshua Awesome on Mandela Day.
In December 2013 Sibusiso was appointed as Chief Scout for the South African Scouts Association. He served in that position until the end of 2018 where he decided to step down because of his adventures and time.
The Dragon Mountains known as the Drakensberg. “My Hike Journal, 2020”
John and I had driven for many hours from Swaziland to KwaZulu Natal Highlands. We checked in at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, dog tired. Towering the hotel building were dragon like giants. Champagne castle and Cathedral peaks looked at us as if saying we will swallow you. No, they were not going to swallow us, but we were going to be swallowed by their vistas and beaty forever. It was in 1996, when John and I had just become walking friends. I say walking because we only enjoyed walking on trails in nature reserves and wilderness places, but never camped overnight. We woke very early on the Saturday morning and hiked up all the way to the top of Cathedral peak. In my head the question still remained, ‘Why”. Why struggle on steep terrain where you could break your ankles? Why huff and puff and sweat the day out on a mountain? But then at one point, just as the sun shone brightly on the slopes of the mountain, I looked back and all around. The beaty, of the valleys, the scenery, the gradient, all captivated my mind such that I could not take my eyes from the distant views and have never done so since. That was the moment I discovered why people go up to these wild and natural places. They go there to feed the soul, the spirit and the mind. The scenery remains imbedded in one’s heart for a very long time. It is what people take down with them from any hike, climb or summit.
That day of our hike and summit in 1996 was a day of self-discovery. I discovered that I had grit, determination and the will to push myself even if my muscles ached. I discovered that I had physical tenacity and a very strong mental capacity to endure hardship. Since that discovery I became confident that I could climb any mountain if I wanted too. John and I went on and hiked a lot in the Drakensberg up until his departure to England three years later. We had then climbed the likes of Cleft peak, Thabana Nhlenyana, Sterkhorn, Mont-Aux-sources, champaign castle to name but a few. But our many day hikes had been at the Malolotja Nature Reserve, that is where we found each other’s love for mountains. If it wasn’t for John, I wound have never climbed a mountain, and if it wasn’t for me, John would never had climbed a mountain. When I arrived in the Himalayas to climb mount Everest, only the Drakensberg were in my resume. I had walked up and down all of them and toping it all up with Mount Kilimanjaro summit in 1999.
Over the last couple of years of not being able to raise major sponsorships for attempting the major mountains that are still out there, I had fallen back to my own backyard to keep my mountain love flame burning as bright, and the Drakensberg, Rwenzori’s, Mount Kenya and many Kilimanjaro summits have all given me the fulfillment that comes with visiting these magnificent high places.
Having missed the opportunity for nearly nine months due to COVID-19, I felt delighted to have the chance to return to the mountains as provincial travel restrictions got eased off. In partnership with www.uprisingza.co.za, a NPO started by Nicole Capper, William Butler and myself dare to climb mountains to honour the bravery of children with dreaded disease and their families who faces their daily challenges with a smile. We lead teams of transformational climbers on epic climbs and rare adventures, to raise funds and awareness for charities supporting children with rare Diseases, and to transform the lives of the trekkers themselves. I recently joined the team to hike and summit Mont-Aux-sources, 3282 M, and Namahadi, 3274 M, over three days. This was a part of the now becoming popular 9 peaks challenge, which is to summit all high mountains of each of South Africa’s provinces. Not my ideal dream, but for many hiking and climbing
enthusiasts, this is a trophy to be bagged. There were fourteen of us with the guiding crew lead by Adrian Saffy of Pure Adventures www.pureadventures.co.za.
Having driven from Johannesburg I found myself back at the foot of a 30 meters high chain ladder. This was the place I had stood at in 1996 when John, following me from a distance yelled
‘Sibusiso, we have got to climb the ladder, the top is way beyond.’ I had stopped at the bottom of there because I was waiting for him, not because I was intimidated. So, I climbed up and waited for him at the top. “I had thought that you would say that you were not going to climb the ladder because you were terrified.” John commented, while being stunned by my fearless climbing ability. Well, I had not seen it as an obstacle but an opportunity to play because I had never seen a ladder attached on a rock face like that. It was that simple.
This time though, I was taking care of others and had to make sure that they were as safe and as comfortable. Others were visibly not sure about the risk. But because we were there encouraging them, they took on the clanking ladders and climbed up on to the magic of the Drakensberg escapement. It was getting late at night, so we caved in to overnight. Yes, it was a cave night even though not the one we wanted because we could not find it in a dark moonless night. But the stars we as bright and as magnificent.
We woke up on the Friday morning to a beautiful sunrise over the Tugela falls. Like rock hyraxes we crawled out of our sleeping bags and shot straight up for our first target of the day. We duly stood at the summit of Mont Aux Sources just as the sun got warmer. A mad rush over difficult contour ridges got us all hyperventilating. Thanks to Adrian’s water hunting skills because we landed at a little puddle and we drank it all up as would elephants who had walked for days to get to water hole.
But the day was still as long, so, we shouldered our heavy back backs and tried to find the sight of the peak which never appeared. For hours on end we slanted along contours trying to avoid climbing up hills. At some stage the words of Nelson Mandela rang loud and true “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” And these many hills in front of us were big and we had to climb them all before the ideal one. Such is the nature of the mountain way of doing things.
I was beginning to doubt if there was ever a thing called Namahadi when Adrian, played with my mind and pointed at a bump which he called false or old Namahadi summit. Apparently Namahadi summit moves further every year, just like the North pole on the Arctic ocean. I was about to give up the summit and focus on the joy of hiking on the escapement, when from afar, I saw a small group of hikers standing on another little summit. It got to be that one for sure I said to myself. Adrian pointed at it just as Nicole was reminding me of my own words to her many years ago. Where I had said, it is never about the summit, but the journey. To that I said yes, but the journey must lead me to a visible target, even if it was a mental image. You cannot reach a summit you do not have in picture or mind. It is easy to give up or get sidetracked and losing focus because you have no vision of your summit, it is that simple. Since I had none of these traits in my head for Namahadi, I was getting frustrated.
With a target on sight, I told the group to pick up its strides, time was against us. We silently huffed up along a steep ridge and just as our lungs were crying for more oxygen, a dome shaped top appeared. We picked up our pace and struggled to the top of Namahadi peak. Pictures taken quickly, and then a mad rush down to a camp on the escapement just above the chain ladders before dark. Two summits, another peak ticked off by the 9 peaks collectors on the uprising 9 peaks series. For some, this was number 5, meaning four more to go. For me, the words of John Muir were echoing in head as I thought about the amazing day on the Dragon mountains, “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains.”
Early Saturday morning we marched back on to the chain ladders. Again, I went down with ease. But the many first timers had to face and conquer their own fears. The ladders were a test of courage and all the climbers gave their best. It warmed my heart when I heard one of them say, ‘this was the most difficult thin I have ever done.’
That is why we do what we do, to challenge ourselves, push our limits to beyond our comfort zones and step into a new discovery. A discovery of realizing that we have unlimited potential. We can rise up to any challenge, with just a little will, strong faith, and a strong determination.