I'm sorry - emotional Sibusiso Vilane on Gugu Zulu

2016-07-21 08:10
Loved ones greet at OR Tambo after the arrival of the Trek 4 Mandela team. The group made an emotional arrival after the death of Gugu Zulu. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

Loved ones greet at OR Tambo after the arrival of the Trek 4 Mandela team. The group made an emotional arrival after the death of Gugu Zulu. (Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

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Johannesburg - Expedition leader and experienced climber Sibusiso Vilane broke down in tears on Wednesday evening, repeatedly apologising to the country for the death of car racing champion Gugu Zulu while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Vilane told a harrowing tale of his last moments with Zulu.

Vilane had just arrived from Tanzania when he held a press briefing at OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday.

Vilane began by explaining how he told 40 climbers who would be joining him for the Trek4Mandela expedition about the difficult terrain they would face.

He said he explained to all the climbers that they were going up a tough Kilimanjaro.

“It is a tough mountain. You are going to have to dig deep to work your way up to the summit of that mountain."

'I am very sorry'

Vilane said he then promised families and friends of climbers that his role was to ensure that everyone was back home safely.

"I am very disappointed today to say that I did not deliver on that promise. I was basing my statement on my 15 years of leading expeditions... I hoped that I was going to impart my experience to lead all the 40 climbers safely down that mountain. I am not very proud of myself. All I can say is (that) I am very sorry with the deepest of my heart to the Zulus and the little baby and his lovely wife... I am disappointed and sorry to the country."

Vilane said he told the team that during the five days, “if anything happens that is health related to please tell me or the team doctor.”

Vilane said during the first days of the expedition he asked Zulu how he felt.

"I asked him how he was, he said, 'I'm ok... I suspect there is some flu creeping in'."

With tears rolling down his face Vilane said he did not see any signs of an illness. "For me he was still cheerful."


Halfway through the climb, after walking for eight hours, Vilane said he told the group they may exhibit signs of illness after reaching an altitude of 4 700 metres.

"I found Zulu sitting down... I thought he was becoming emotional for the achievement."

He said he asked the team doctor Roxanne Shutte, if there were any health issues and the doctor told him Zulu was weak.

"Roxanne never picked up symptoms of anything. She said she would recheck if Zulu was going to be sick.”

As Vilane was about to rest he said he heard a commotion.

“Roxanne said he is still alive but I need him to get down this mountain as soon as possible," he said.

Vilane said a stretcher was arranged to carry Zulu down for medical assistance.

He said the group that stayed behind while Zulu was taken down with his wife Letshego by his side.


"I went to the tent and prayed. I said dear lord I pray he does not get worse... Throughout the night I did not sleep... We heard no word of what our brother and sister were going through.”

Vilane said the group continued the climb not knowing that Zulu was still struggling to get help.

“We were not aware up until the time of us being near the summit that they were still trying to make their way down, they had never found any help," Vilane said as he wept. 

He said after completing the summit the group walked down and one of the climbers pulled him aside.

"I didn’t suspect anything. He says Zulu is no more. I went stone dead. I didn’t say anything. I was hoping that this is a dream but it was not a dream." he said.

"I’ve never had a wink, I’ve never slept until today," Vilane said.

Vilane said he had never lost a climber before after leading 19 expeditions in 15 years.

"We did all that we could possibly do with the information we had with the information we had... We had no idea that Zulu was sick," he said.

Read more on:    gugu zulu

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