Gugu Zulu was South Africa's most celebrated black racing driver. Picture: David Ledbitter / Quickpic.
 

The death of one of motorsport's most admired characters has left South Africans shocked and in mourning.

Tributes poured in on Monday morning after the Nelson Mandela Foundation announced that Gugu Zulu tragically lost his life earlier in the morning while attempting to summit Mount Kilimanjaro with his wife Letshego, as part of the Trek4Mandela initiative.

While full details on how he died were not known, the foundation said that Gugu had experienced problems breathing and that the medical team supporting the trek had put him on a drip and descended the mountain with him.

Tributes from fans and fellow racing drivers show just how loved and respected this larger-than-life character really was. These are just a few of the thousands of tributes that poured in.

Motorsport South Africa (MSA):

"Gugu was a larger than life character, always ready with a quick smile and well-liked by all who came into contact with him. His tragic passing leaves a void that can never be filled.”

Sello Hatang, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO:

“I am devastated. I knew him well. I recruited him to climb Kilimanjaro. The last thing he said to me at the airport before he left last week was that he wanted to speak about doing other Mandela Day projects. I feel a huge sense of loss.”

Kelvin van der Linde, racing driver:

“Shocked beyond measure... RIP Gugu Zulu, an amazing man and a great ambassador for South Africa... During my time spent with him, I knew Gugu as a genuinely caring person that would go out of his way for everyone!! My condolences to his whole family, wife and baby girl. Today is a really sad day...”

Giniel de Villiers, Dakar-winning rally driver:

“So sad to hear about the passing of @GuguZulu this morning. A true gentleman and great ambassador for motorsport. RIP Gugs.”

Zizi Kodwa, ANC National Spokesperson :

“we are reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words with regards to our sporting men and women: ‘They are our treasured possessions, jewels in our country’s crown. They will know that their triumphs are celebrated by the entire rainbow nation whose banner they have raised high amongst the nations of the world.’

Hendrik Verwoerd, motorsport presenter:

“Absolutely devastated about the death of my friend and former colleague Gugu Zulu. He was a true inspiration and this is a huge loss not only for the motorsport fraternity but also for our nation. May his legacy inspire others to reach the same heights in whatever their endeavours. Deepest condolences to Letshego, little Lelethu and the rest of his family and friends. RIP, brother.”

Lerato Matebese, motoring journalist:

“Gugu Zulu You were a true legend, a great friend and champion! RIP my brother! To the Zulu family may the good Lord be with you at this time!”

SA Guild of motoring journalists:

“A true gentleman, Gugu will be remembered for his tenacity and determination behind the wheel, and for his humility and warmth towards everyone he met. South Africa has lost a legend.”

HOW GUGU ROSE TO GREATNESS

Gugulethu 'Gugu' Zulu was born in Soweto on 13 may 1978, and began his motorsport career in 1999 after graduating from the Isondo Racing Academy.

The following year he dominated the Vodacom Isondo Sports 2000 national series, taking 13 wins and two seconds in 16 races. That was enough to earn him a spot in the in the inaugural Sasol Steam Team in 2001 alongside veteran Sarel van der Merwe, who soon became his mentor.

In his first year with the team he won the Guinness Achievement Award as well as both the WesBank and Goodyear Star of Tomorrow awards and by the following year he was setting lap times as fast as Supervan.

In 2003 he moved to rallying, but never restricted himself to just one discipline; he competed internationally in the 2004 Skip Barber Dodge Racing Series. He recently said that one of the highlights of his racing career was to have seen his name at the top of a racing timesheet, with Sergio Perez and Marco Andretti in the next two slots!

Gugu also performed some of the car stunts for the 2005 Nicholas Cage thriller Lord of War, and became both an advanced driving instructor as well as a presenter on the SABC show Car Torque and then later DSTV's Ignition. He even featured as a contestant on the 2008 season of Strictly come Dancing.

His rallying career went from strength to strength, with SA National Rally Class titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Nevertheless, Gugu was looking forward to returning to the tarmac in August 2016 as a driver in the new GTC saloon car formula. He was also the ‘G’ in GAS Sports, the promoter of the SA National Motorcycle Circuit Racing Championship, and one of his dreams was to run his own racing team.

He was an ambassador for the Wings for Life World Run, an event that raises funds for research into cures for spinal injuries, once saying that he was running for a family friend who had a child with spina bifida.

Gugu and his wife, biokineticist and reality TV star Letshego Moshoeu, were known as an ‘adventure couple’; they recently welcomed the birth of a daughter, Lelethu, and celebrated her first birthday earlier this year.

The team at IOL extend our deepest condlences to his family.

Below IOL's Mojo team lists seven of his career highlights: