LOVING FAMILY: Gugu Zulu with his wife Letshego and their daughter Lelethu. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko / Independent Media.
LOVING FAMILY: Gugu Zulu with his wife Letshego and their daughter Lelethu. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko / Independent Media.

Kilimanjaro tragedy: The inside story

By Karishma Dipa, Samantha Hartshorne and Lerato Mbangeni. Time of article published Jul 19, 2016

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Johannesburg - The Nelson Mandela Foundation was on Tuesday making plans to repatriate Gugu Zulu’s body.

Zulu died from unknown causes after attempting to climb Kilimanjaro as part of the Trek4Mandela expedition.

On Tuesday morning, director of communications at the Nelson Mandela Foundation Neeran Naidoo said they were talking to the South African embassy in Tanzania and to the Department of Home Affairs so that Zulu’s body could be brought home. He said the foundation’s chief executive, Sello Hatang, was in Tanzania to facilitate that.

Naidoo said that despite reports that there was inadequate medical assistance, a team doctor and emergency service personnel were with the climbers and this was standard practice.

Other Trek4Mandela team members on the same climb reached the summit as planned on Monday, on Mandela Day. It was when they returned to base camp that they were told of Zulu’s death.

“Many had already received sketchy reports from family and were distraught to have the news confirmed,” said trek co-ordinator Richard Mabaso.

The climbers spent the night at the camp before leaving on Tuesday for the final hike out of the Kilimanjaro National Park and will spend tonight in Moshi.

Mabaso said the group would return to OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday night, where team leader and experienced mountaineer Sibusiso Vilane and the doctor on the team would brief the media. Mabaso will remain in Dar es Salaam until Zulu’s body is brought home.

Letshego Zulu has been joined by her sister-in-law and a friend.

“She is broken - they did everything together,” said Mabaso.

Zulu’s condition deteriorated quickly

Speaking from the base camp on Monday, The Star news editor Omphitlhetse Mooki said: “We were supposed to all summit together on Monday night. We reached base camp on Sunday night, where we were supposed to sleep before we were to summit.

“I was sharing a room with Letshego and Gugu and nine others, and Gugu was not okay that night, something to do with his sinuses. The doctor came and checked him and put him on a drip.”

Zulu’s condition deteriorated quickly, she said.

“He was breathing loudly because of his chest problems.

“It was around 8pm when we switched off the lights to sleep that we heard his breathing patterns change. We thought it was sleep apnoea. One of the women in our room went to call the doctor who was in the next room.”

The doctor said he should be taken to hospital immediately, saying it was meningitis, said Mooki.

Doctors are still determining the cause of Zulu’s death.

The group was in a location where helicopters couldn’t land, so porters had to rush him to the next camp on a stretcher.

Mabaso said they carried Zulu on the stretcher from the Kibo base camp below the summit for 11km to Horombo camp, then 9km to Mandara camp, then another 4km to where a vehicle could access the mountain. He was then driven out of the mountain park to hospital.

Mabaso said the reports of meningitis were speculation.

Fellow climbers mourn

One of the other Trek4Mandela climbers, Bobo Tsehlo, sustained an ankle injury and suffered from asthma. She was also brought down by stretcher and taken to hospital.

Mooki said the mood was sombre when they returned from the peak.

“We were told the news just after we returned to the base camp. People are very sad because they were a loving and lovely couple. Letshego even had a banner prepared that said Adventure Couple, which she was going to show when they reached the summit.”

In the meantime, African Independent editor Jovial Rantao, who was also part of the group, has slammed the lack of medical facilities and evacuation plans.

“A venue that hosts thousands of international and local mountaineers in Tanzania to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, should do way better,” said Rantao.

He wrote of Letshego’s despair when her husband died.

“A powerful shriek by Letshego echoed through the dormitories at Kibo camp at the foot of Kilimanjaro after she discovered that he wasn’t breathing,” said Rantao.

One image that remains vivid in his memory was seeing Letshego running next to the stretcher carrying her husband on a pitch-dark gravel road.

“It irritates the hell out of me that a beautiful young man and talented athlete died because of poor health and emergency facilities.

“I’m haunted by the image of a young, African wife and mother running alongside a (stretcher) - crying and praying for her husband’s life,” he said.

The Star

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