NATIONAL TREASURE MAKES SPEEDY RETURN TO HEAVEN
TRANSLATED into English, the name Gugu means “treasure”. And Zulu means “heaven”.
That’s exactly what Gugu Zulu was to his close friends, family and the South African nation: our treasure from the heavens.
Although I enjoy watching the sport every now and then, I do not know much about car racing.
But it is people like Lewis Hamilton and Gugu Zulu who, when they started making inroads into this sport that has always been the preserve of white people, suddenly got me more interested in it.
You know, those magical, inspirational moments when Tiger Woods broke record after record, when Serena Williams wins cup after cup in a sport that had for a long time been ring-fenced to keep out those of us with a more than generous supply of melanin.
In a small way, Zulu was to car racing what Williams is to tennis. He demystified the sport.
I know two young chaps who are devastated by his death as they were hoping to be introduced to him, eager to get into the sport.
With him as a role model and a guide, they felt they could make it.
Now he is gone. Their hopes are shattered. But one hopes that his death, and the legacy that he leaves behind – however humble should be inspiration enough to many around the country.
Admittedly, I will never ever try car racing as I am scared of speed – but just watching others engaging in the sport speeds up my heartbeat, and releases loads of adrenaline in my body.
It’s as if I am the one sweating in that bucket seat.
When I discovered that Zulu’s willingness, nay determination, went beyond car racing, and into other adventures such as mountain climbing – which is also a rather new pursuit for us – I got even more interested in the man. I love – mavericks. I admire daredevils.
Zulu had in the past competed in the Cape Epic mountain bike race and in the country’s two gruelling marathons – the Comrades and the Two Oceans.
Popularly known as “the fastest brother in Africa”, he started his car racing career in 1999, after he graduated from the Vodacom Isondo Sports 2000 national championships.
In 2001, former rally and racing driver Sarel van der Merwe offered him the second seat in the inaugural Sasol Steam Team.
Another highlight in the affable driver’s career was working as a driving instructor at Volkswagen, Audi and BMW.
He featured as a stunt driver in the movie which starred Nicolas Cage and was about the illegal arms trade.
Six weeks ago, when the 38year-old Zulu officially announced he would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, he was excited at the challenge. Having done research, he was well aware of the risks.
In the build-up to the climb, Zulu had been effervescent, taking to social media to let his followers track his progress up the mountain.
His last Facebook post on July 16 partly read: “Made it through day 2. My wife is doing fabulous, she has even learnt the local language. Am having flu-like symptoms and struggling with the mountain but taking it step by step! Today we managed to see our destination and our camp is literary (sic) above the clouds.”
Apart from the fact that he thrived on adrenaline, in embarking on the challenge, Zulu and his wife Letshego were climbing the legendary mountain in the name of Caring4Girls, the nationwide campaign to fund the distribution of sanitary pads to 350 000 underprivileged girls around the country.
Imagine the shock when the news of Zulu’s death exploded in our faces early this week.
What disturbed me about his death, however, is that, based on reports that I have read so far, it could have been avoided.
This is how the story has been told: the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro started on Thursday July 14. The following day, Zulu started complaining about flu-like symptoms. But he soldiered on.
On day three, at Kibo base camp, he was placed on a drip at around 5.30pm. By 9.30pm the medical team decided to descend after his condition failed to improve.
Because no helicopter could land where they were, the 28km stretch had to be done on foot. The medical team trundled him on a bicycle stretcher the entire distance. On reaching the foot of the mountain four hours later, they rushed him to hospital. He died later.
It is infuriating, and also boggles the mind that such a popular venue as Kilimanjaro National Park does not have medical facilities on site.
Ridiculous. Year in, year out, thousands of climbers from all over the world converge there to climb Africa’s highest peak.
Authorities at the venue had better start acting now, before there’s a repeat of this tragedy.
But Gugu remains, in the hearts of many, exactly what his name says: an everlasting treasure.