'We’ve lost a true motorsport gem' - Wheels24 remembers #GuguZulu

<b> RIP GUGU: </b> Wheels24's Sean Parker 'photobombs' Gugu Zulu as the veteran takes a selfie. <i> Image: Gugu Zulu / Facebook </i>
<b> RIP GUGU: </b> Wheels24's Sean Parker 'photobombs' Gugu Zulu as the veteran takes a selfie. <i> Image: Gugu Zulu / Facebook </i>

Cape Town - South African rally champion Gugu Zulu has died while attempting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, reports said on Monday. 

The 38-year-old was climbing Kilimanjaro with his wife Letshego and project leader Richard Mabaso. The team was led by experienced mountaineer, Sibusiso Vilane.

The veteran driver was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as part of an initiative with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. 

Wheels24 team members Janine Van der Post and Sean Parker share their memories of Gugu Zulu.

'He made me feel welcome' -  Sean Parker

I first met Gugu in 2012, when I was an intern. It was at the Sabie Rally and immediately his warm smile, infectious laugh and all round helpfulness made me feel welcome. 

I mean come on, this was Gugu Zulu, the country's most famous racing driver at the time. He greeted me like we had known each other for years.

WATCH: #GuguZulu honoured in this touching video

I bumped into him at events over the next few months and each time he made time to ask how my internship was going. He showed a genuine interest in everybody and was well-loved by many motoring journalists. 

The following year, I entered an off-road competition which took place in Tzaneen. It was hosted by Volkswagen and pitted motoring hacks against one another in a series of challenges in a game reserve. 

Gugu and Pierre Arries, one of SA's best rally navigators were there to give the competition some racing flavour. 

By some luck of the Irish I managed to team up with Zulu. It was a dream come true. 

We shared responsibilities but I left the quicker stages to the professional. It was thrilling to sit shotgun while the rally ace did his thing. 

We didn't win the contest but I got to drive with one of my heroes. 

And that's all that mattered. 

'He was always humble' - Janine Van der Post

I am truly gutted by the sad news of Gugu Zulu’s passing. I’ve known him since I became a member of the motoring industry. I met him at a Volkswagen driving trainer course years ago. He lived the Volkswagen brand and he was one of the most soft-spoken, kind and gentle souls I’ve ever known. He was never angry, always caring, always humble. Always smiling.

I remember the first time he took me around Kyalami in 2007. I wasn’t that confident driving on track yet, in fact I was terrified. He made hitting the apexes seem so easy, driving was second nature to him. And all the while, his pearly whites would flash that bright smile as he gave endless tips about taking the perfect racing line. He said: “Don’t ever let a car control you, you are always in control. Go at your pace, as long as you are comfortable, the rest will come.”

Those very words I still share with anyone new in the industry today.

He called me Janine-nie or J9. Whenever Gugu saw you, his face would light up and he would wrap his long arms around you and give the best hugs in the world. You’d think you were pretty special, saying how great it is to see you… but that’s how he treated everyone. 

Letshego, his ‘First Lady’ as he called her, was the love of his life. I remember how we used to joke about him saving up for her ring and finally marrying her. I would rag him since he had known her for years and had still not proposed. He would joke and say he needed to save up for the lobola and then the few times I would ever see him in a serious mood, he shared his fears for those very meetings, and about wanting to be financially stable to support her. He wanted everything to be right to make Letshego his wife. 

And then, when the news came that he was going to be a father, he couldn’t have been happier. Little Lelethu only turned 1 years old in June, and she made his life complete. It shatters me knowing he won’t be able to teach her to drive, or even walk her down the aisle one day. But she already has the most amazing guardian angel watching over his two ladies.

My heart bleeds for the Zulu family. We’ve lost a true motorsport gem. God clearly needed a great driver up in Heaven. Rest softly my dear friend, until we meet again.

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