Follow me on social media

SARZA is a real mixed pot of passionate folk from all walks of life who come together to go and help fellow nature users on what is often the worst day of their lives. We are a team of volunteers who do Search and Rescue operations in mostly rough terrain. When not in the wilderness, we assist disaster management agencies with getting humanitarian aid into stricken areas affected by floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.


Leah Kay Bell-Leaske - First Ascent


What are some of your most memorable achievements?

SARZA has worked hard for more than 30 years to be recognised as a professional Search and Rescue Unit, which can be relied upon by state and private entities to assist, and sometimes take the lead, on emergency situations. In an environment where so many well-meaning volunteers clutter and sometimes hinder emergency situations due to a lack of coordinated and trained involvement, SARZA has become the go-to organisation for both local and international deployment. We were proud to be deployed within the South African Team which responded to the devastating earthquake in Türkiye in 2023 as well as many other national and international disasters.

SARZA is often called upon by provincial Emergency Medical Services (EMS) all over South Africa to assist with scenes in rough terrain as well as urban disaster zones.

Every rescue has its own moment which sticks in one’s mind for very different reasons. One of the most gratifying things one can do is to help another human being. Whether it be just holding their hand to assure them it’s going to be okay or helping them out of life-threatening trouble.

Some disasters responded to:

  • Haiti Earthquake – 2010
  • Japan Earthquake - 2011
  • Mozambique- Cyclone Idai Flooding - 2019
  • Durban Floods – April 2022
  • Jagersfontein Mine Tailings Dam collapse – September 2022
  • Türkiye Earthquake – February 2023
  • Western Cape Flooding – June 2023

What are the ambitions that you are working towards?

We are looking to grow our membership to create a network of well-trained volunteers throughout South Africa who are able to respond to natural and man-made disasters. Already present in 7 of 9 provinces in South Africa, we aspire to be a truly national Search and Rescue organisation which is relied upon by both the public, state and professional agencies to assist in times of need.

What are some of your top tips?

We are most often surprised to hear from patients that they don’t know what number to call when in trouble.

Before going into the wilderness, whether for a day hike or an overnight adventure, find what the emergency numbers are for your area.

Water, water, water, water. Take enough for yourself and some for a friend, especially in summer. We underestimate the amount of fluid our bodies require when we exert ourselves.

Clothing to keep you warm and dry. Especially in the Cape Mountains, beautiful sunny days are often clouded over and we find ourselves cold and wet in the cloud cover.

We often get called to rescue folk at sunset after they realise that they will not reach their destination safely. This is usually after a day of taking photos, video and listening to music on their cell phones and they are left with low battery. We advise folk to always take means to charge your phone in the event of an emergency. This is crucial for getting rescue team to your location.

Tell someone where you are going, what your planned route is and when you plan to be back.


What is your favourite FA product and why?

First Ascent is really used as a system in our world. We wear layers of clothing to assist with insulating the body against the cold. The Fleece quarter zip under the full zip fleece covered by the Event jacket is a winning recipe to keep us warm and dry in the harshest weather.

Of course, we all love the Event Jacket as a versatile barrier to whatever the elements throw us.

One of our team, who served in a Rescue team in New Zealand,  had this to say:

” I have just completed a tryout of the First Ascent gear over 1h30 and 5km in moderate to heavy rain at 5 degrees C. The base layers did well. I am feeling a bit damp from sweat on the base layer, but that is to be expected. The next two layers are dry. The rain jacket completely outperformed my new NZ Stoney Creek rain pants, a very reputable hunting brand, that we were issued within NZ. The FA jacket had the rain pearling off and I was completely dry under it, for the most. Some water came in around the chin/neck area when facing the wind and the driving rain. It may just be me having to figure out how to close up properly. The jacket was almost dry inside, showing off its great ventilation. My pants became quite damp except where the FA jacket extended to. My trusty Lowe GTX 6 boots remained waterproof. When on a bad weather job I will wear a base under my yellow SARZA shirt and then the jacket. This should prevent overheating. Overall, excellent equipment.”