ONLY MEANS: Gugu Zulu was transported on a stretcher similar to this one. Picture: Independent Media.
ONLY MEANS: Gugu Zulu was transported on a stretcher similar to this one. Picture: Independent Media.

'Gugu Zulu's death is a blight on Tanzania'

By Jovial Rantao Time of article published Jul 26, 2016

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Johannesburg - As Kyalami race track remembers Gugu Zulu at a memorial service today, Jovial Rantao ponders the disgrace of his death on Kilimanjaro:

This is a column that His Excellency John Magufuli, president of Tanzania, must read and weep over.

Magufuli, who has earned fame for his anti-corruption and anti-excess stance, as well as getting Tanzanians to work, must do something.

A young South African life has been cut short simply because of the lack of medical facilities at Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s biggest attractions for mountain climbers. Gugu Zulu, a superstar in the prime of his life, a husband, father to an adorable little girl and a South African and African ambassador, died needlessly last week. I lay the blame for Gugu’s death at Magufuli’s door.

The president must do something, not least because what happened represents the old, corrupt, no-work-ethic Tanzania he is working around the clock to change. The tragedy projects an image of Africa that new-generation leaders, such as Magufuli, seek to transform.

Images of Steve Biko being driven in the back of an apartheid police van rushed through my mind as I saw Gugu being taken away on a one-wheeled stretcher, on a bumpy gravel road, in pitch darkness.

The one-wheeled stretcher is an image that represents an Africa that we all want to move away from. It represents the tragedy that is visited on ordinary Tanzanians who live in and around Kilimanjaro National Park.

This is a national asset that has also provided jobs for thousands. But how, in 2016, can an international venue, which rakes in millions in dollar revenue, not have the capacity and facilities to treat sick people?

In 24 hours, we witnessed two heartbreaking incidents. We saw Gugu being wheeled away on that stretcher and his wife, Letshego, and Richard Mabaso, leader of the Trek4Mandela mission, running and walking alongside him.

It took them eight hours to reach a place where they could get help.

Hours later, I watched as a fellow climber - a woman on the hike with her husband - was placed on that stretcher in a sleeping bag, just like Gugu, and taken on that gravel road on a 20km run to find medical help. After a treacherous five-hour trip, some parts of it in the rain, she reached a place where she got it.

These are images that will haunt me forever. These are the hard facts and the cold truths that have made me extremely angry. They should haunt and anger Magufuli too. They should make him do something, so that not one more life that could have been saved, is lost. The president of Tanzania must do something so no Tanzanian or visitor suffers the indignity of being taken for medical attention on that one-wheeled stretcher.

Heroic acts

The truth is that the guides on Kilimanjaro were guardian angels. They did all they could to get the climbers up the mountain; they did all they could to save Gugu. However, their heroic acts were performed under terrible conditions. And these are the conditions President Magufuli can, and should, change.

I am encouraged that the Tanzanian government is to review and improve the situation in Kilimanjaro National Park.

The hike up Kilimanjaro was tough, but an awesome experience. The tragedy formed part of our experience but it should not detract from the bigger mission of helping the needy.

It should not discourage individuals from undertaking this unique expedition or corporates from supporting it so the good cause pursued by Trek4Mandela can be achieved.

* Jovial Rantao is the editor of African Independent. He was part of this year’s Trek4Mandela team and was with Gugu Zulu during his last days. This piece was first published in African Independent on Friday

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