Ex-PE woman on Kilimanjaro trek

Former PE schoolgirl Gillian Pillay is tackling Mount Kilimanjaro next month as part of Trek4Mandela – just two years after she first summited the Tanzanian mountain
Picture: Gillian Pillay / Facebook

Pillay to document bid by Gugu Zulu’s widow

Just two years after reaching the highest point in Africa, former Port Elizabeth schoolgirl Gillian Pillay is planning to do so again – this time with Gugu Zulu’s widow, Letshego, by her side.

The two are among those climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as part of the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Trek4Mandela, an initiative in collaboration with Caring4Girls, which aims to provide sanitary towels to thousands of girls around the country and hopes to reach two million schoolgirls by 2020.

Both women have climbed the Tanzanian mountain as part of the initiative before – Pillay in 2015 and Letshego last year, when her charismatic race car driver husband died tragically on the descent.

“I was deeply touched by the passing of Gugu Zulu. It affected me because I traversed the same terrains he did,” Pillay told Weekend Post this week.

“I maintain that it seldom crosses one’s mind that one would not return from an expedition like Kilimanjaro. But last year’s tragedy changed all that.

“Yes, it is dangerous, yes there is a possibility of not returning home, but this is a possibility everyone faces when stepping out of their homes or into their cars.

“We are confronted with this reality daily.”

Pillay, who had not set out to tackle Kilimanjaro twice, said she was driven this time by the devastating effect of addiction on families.

“I have a very close relative who is a recovering tik/crystal-meth addict and the victims in this tragedy are the children, who at times have seen a parent beyond ‘rock bottom’ – children who have endured, witnessed and experienced so much more than I could ever imagine.”

Pillay, who attended Gelvandale Primary and St Thomas Secondary schools in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas, said: “These are the children who don’t have basics like school shoes, let alone sanitary pads, children who often have to be adults before they are or ever were children.

“And it’s these children I am advocating for. I am hoping they will realise they are able to escape the vicious cycle and impact of drugs on their lives and rise above their circumstances.”

Asked about preparation for the daunting climb, Pillay said her training included hiking in the Drakensberg this weekend, working on a lot of stairs, upper-body and core training and boosting and building her immune system as she was prone to getting sick.

“I don’t think one can physically prepare enough for Kilimanjaro,” she said.

“Even the fittest person can encounter challenges on the climb.

“I think it is nerve-wracking that there are no guarantees of summiting.

“‘The mountain will either accept or reject you’.

“Those were [trek leader Sibusiso] Vilane’s words during our second-last training session at the Suikerbos 17km hike in Heidelberg.”

Pillay, an SABC TV news journalist based in Johannesburg, will be documenting Letshego’s trip.

The young widow had vowed after her husband’s tragic death to return to Kilimanjaro and to summit.

The team leaves South Africa on July 12 and plans to summit Kilimanjaro on July 18 – former president Nelson Mandela’s birthday.

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