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At last, an African conquers Mount Everest: Sibusiso Vilane climbed himself into the history books when he become the first black man to conquer the world's tallest mountain. (Around Africa: Swaziland/South Africa).

On the 50th anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest by the British climber, Sir Edmund Hillary, Sibusiso Vilane, who holds a dual South African-Swaziland citizenship, demonstrated that given the opportunity, Africans can match or better any feat. He found himself standing on top of the celebrated mountain in the wee hours of 26 May, at the close of Africa Day celebrations the day before.

A trainee ranger at a lodge in Nelspruit, South Africa, Vilane has parents from both Swaziland and South Africa. He set off on his historic climb when he arrived in Nepal on 25 March. On 17 May at 3 am, he disappeared into the dark on his way into the history books.

On 25 May (Africa Day), Sibusiso and his team reached Camp Four, the final leg of the climb. This came a few days after a South African team had failed to do the final leg due to difficult conditions. (One of them, Sean Wisedale, later made it after Sibusiso, making it a double triumph for South Africa).

Waving the South African flag embellished with Swazi symbols, Sibusiso cried tears of joy: "I wanted to show the world that nothing could stop black people from standing on top of the world, given the opportunity. I wanted to do it for all the people in black communities who have never been given the opportunity before. For myself, I wanted to prove a point, to show that I could do it, even though I have very limited experience."

An ecstatic President Thabo Mbeki added: "Today all Africans stand 8,848m tall. Vilane has made all of us stick our chest out in justifiable pride and wonder."

But Swazis have refused to cede the honour. They came out fighting for their prodigal son. "Vilane is our hero -- not South Africa's," they announced amidst wild celebrations in Mbabane and Manzini. Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini said he and his government were extremely proud of Vilane's achievements. "He has shown courage, determination and self discipline. These are qualities which all Swazis and Africans everywhere, especially the young, should copy and uphold." Swaziland considers him a full Swazi because he was born not only in the mountains in the northwest of the country, but his home is still there. Even though he works in South Africa, his wife and children still live in Swaziland. He went to school in that area and worked (until last year) as a warden at the Malolota Game Reserve run by the Swaziland National Trust. The area shares borders with South Africa.

The mild controversy has illustrated the folly of sticking to the artificial borders created by imperial cartographers. Nothing in reality distinguishes the now famous Sibusiso as a Swazi or South African. The only factor being that he is black and African. Sibusiso himself has no doubt that he is African first before he is Swazi or South African or both. His victory declaration was loud and clear. "I did it for Africa and all black people."
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Author:Commey, Pusch
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:9NEPA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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