Zuki Matamo

Zuki Matamo's sense of humour emerges the minute you meet her. She is irrepressibly funny and good-natured. But below her cheerful outlook and small frame, lives an ambitious, determined woman, striving to break a world record. Zuki is participating in a project called Isicongo. She and two colleagues, are on a quest to ascend the Seven Summits of the world and ultimately be the first black women to summit Everest. Zuki climbed her first mountain, Table Mountain, in 2005. One year and some serious training later, Zuki summited her first peak, Kilimanjaro, on Women's Day followed quickly by the highest mountain in Europe, Mount Elbrus, on 9 September. When asked why she is climbing the Seven Summits, Zuki says she is doing it for the women, she wants to show South African women that great things are possible for everyone, even in a life of struggle.

Born in East London in 1972, Zuki moved between Kingwilliams Town and East London during her school years. Living with either her parents or her uncle, she was forced to change schools a number of times, once because of the political riots of the early 1980's. Zuki completed her Matric in 1993.

Straight after school, Zuki left the Eastern Cape and moved to Cape Town where she met her then-husband in 1994. In 1996, she and her husband had their first daughter and two years later followed another baby girl.

In 2003, Zuki had her third child, this time a boy. After his birth, Zuki explains, that she gained a lot of weight. "I went from being very small, to weighing 106 kilograms. I spent two years struggling with this weight until eventually I decided it was time to lose it. So, in 2003 I began to walk for exercise," says Zuki. Living in Llandudno at the time and working as a domestic worker, Zuki began to wake up early, and before work everyday, would walk 2 kilometres. After a month, she stepped up the pace and began to run very slowly. When the neighbours noticed Zuki running every day, a few of them suggested she meet Evelina Tshabalala who worked at the Spar in Hout Bay. Evelina was well-known amongst the locals for her success as a marathon runner. Zuki took their advice and tracked her down. On their first training day together, Evelina took Zuki on a 20 kilometre run. "After that run I decided I never wanted to see Evelina again. I kept looking at her and thinking, I'm never running with you again," says Zuki. Nevertheless, her friend convinced her to keep training and pushed her a little further every day. Eventually Zuki was running marathons and within 18 months Zuki had achieved her initial goal and had shed 42 kilograms. Happy as she was about her weight loss, her overriding drive to shed the pounds had already replaced with a determination to succeed as an athlete.

Aware of the difficulties ahead of her, Zuki remains philosophical about her goals. "What we are attempting to do is a big challenge. We may not succeed the first time, and it may take a long time, but I will not give up until I have summited Everest," she says. Zuki and Noma both summited Aconcagua in Argentina on 7 January 2007. On 25 February 2009 Zuki summited Kosciuszko.

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