Letshego Zulu, Miranda Sherry & Precious Thamaga Achievements

After losing my husband I found the strength I never thought I had’

Letshego Zulu, 33, is a biokineticist who lives in Paulshof with her two-year-old daughter, Lelethu. Letshego’s husband, rally driver Gugu, died in 2016 during a charity climb up Kilimanjaro with Letshego. This has been a year of discovery for me – discovering how different I am to the person I thought I was. If someone had told me two years ago that I would be a single mom after being in a relationship with Gugu for 16 years, I wouldn’t have believed them. But this past year has shown me that I can overcome adversity, and that I’m stronger than I thought I was. Focusing on the now Gugu died after having respiratory problems during our ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro last year. It was a huge shock and I was naturally devastated. I had no idea how to make peace with my new life so I began reading inspirational books, particularly those by Eckhart Tolle, which reminded me that focusing on the future and the past can rob you of the most precious thing – the now.

Letshego Zulu, Miranda Sherry & Precious Thamaga Achievements Photo Gallery

And it’s this thought that has helped me navigate 2017. In those dark months, I almost forgot what’s really important, like spending more time with my daughter, Lelethu. She has her entire life ahead of her and I want to rediscover the world through her eyes. Even though she’s hit the ‘terrible twos’, I’m letting the tantrums and the scribbles on the couch go – I’m determined not to sweat the small stuff anymore. Anyone who knew Gugu knows that he lived life to the fullest and I believe he’d want me to do the same. Every day, in different ways, I continue to be inspired by him. Exercise has also centred me and helped me get used to feeling happy again. Gugu and I were a very active couple but after his death, I had little motivation to even work out. Finally, it took a phonecall from a friend to get me exercising again.

She reminded me that Gugu would have wanted me to do the things I enjoyed, like going for a run or cycle, and I held onto that reminder until I started to feel like myself again. Starting over I never had negative feelings towards the mountain where Gugu’s life came to an end. Kilimanjaro is a breathtaking place and I have beautiful memories of the time we spent there. One day I hope to take Lelethu there and tell her what an amazing time Gugu and I had in his last days – people often called us the ‘adventure couple’, and that was our last adventure together. I have no regrets about our final trip, in fact, I returned to the mountain this year. I had promised Gugu that I’d reach the top and I was determined to stay true to my word. People kept asking if it was daunting to face those memories again, and it was certainly an emotional feat, but I also felt like Gugu was walking beside me all the way. I climbed with an amazing group of people who helped to keep my spirits up, too. It has been a tough year; I’ve learnt how much tragedy can change you – sometimes for the better, in my case – and I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring. In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m only just getting started.

‘ I finally feel recognised for my work as a writer’

Miranda Sherry, 42, is a copywriter and author who lives in Craighall with her partner, Grant Mills, and their two cats. I’ve always wanted to be an author, but I never realised what a journey achieving this goal would be. It took about 10 years before my first book was published in 2014. In that time I wrote, and rewrote – and rewrote again! – four manuscripts while working full time, dealt with rejection from publishers, and overcame my own self-doubt. Now with my second book published, I finally feel my abilities as a writer have been rewarded. Not giving up My family are avid readers, and as a child, I always had my nose in a book. The characters would inspire me to write my own stories, and I’d often be found in the garden, furiously scribbling my tales in an old exercise book.

But between the age of seven and starting university, I decided that being a writer wasn’t a ‘proper’ job, so I studied drama instead. I dabbled in theatre for a few years, before joining a band as a singer and songwriter. We moved to London to try land a record contract, but our album was never released. While there, I worked as a waitress but a part of me still hadn’t given up the dream of being a published author, so in my spare time I’d write. During the years I spent in London, I wrote one book and it was turned down by publishers multiple times – to be fair, I can see now that it was quite ghastly! In 2004, I moved back to SA and, determined to make a career from writing, took a job as a copywriter. I’d rush home after 5pm to work on my own writing projects, and managed to send two books to different agents. One agent made me rewrite a novel 15 times then still turned it down – but it helped me hone my skills.

In 2013, I got a call I’d been waiting for: an agent said that there was a bidding war between publishers for the fourth manuscript I’d written, Black Dog Summer, about a daughter coming to terms with her mother’s murder. I was thrilled – my goal was in sight. Dreams come true Having my book published changed everything. I refused to be a one-hit wonder though; I scaled back my office hours so I could focus on writing my next novel. Bone Meal for Roses, a coming-of-age tale about a young girl with an abusive past, was published in 2016. In April this year I was long-listed for the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize in the Sunday Times Literary Awards; I knew I had a slim chance of winning but it really was an honour just to be acknowledged – people liked what I had to say in my books! Now I regularly get asked to attend literary events and talk about my work – things I only dreamt about all those years ago.

I’ll remember 2017 as the year that put my business on the map’

Precious Thamaga, 34, lives in Johannesburg and is the owner of an international luxury wedding and events company, Precious Celebrations. When I reflect on 2017 I’ll remember it as the year that put my business on the map. Although I started Precious Celebrations in 2011, this year has been amazing with many highlights, including organising celebrity Bonang Matheba’s 30th birthday soirée in June. Small beginnings My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my studies after school so I moved from Limpopo to Joburg and found work as a receptionist. A year later I was working for a hotel group and it was then that I set my sights on organising events.

I could actually see the PR department from where I sat; they spent their days liaising with media and setting up functions – what fun! I transferred to the department when a PA position became available but it was purely admin-based, so, when I was offered a job as the PR co-ordinator for a luxury safari company in 2005, I took it in a heartbeat – they even paid for me to get my diploma in event and project management. I used the two years I was at the company to network and, in 2007, I felt confident enough to take a full-time job as an events co-ordinator. As I grew from that role to communications manager I soon established my niche in bespoke event concepts. I was working in events at a hardware company when my manager insisted everyone in our team meet with a life coach.

I told the coach about a dream I’d always had: to start my own business. After each session I thought to myself, ‘Why not start my own business now?’ I decided it was now or never; I told my manager my intentions, and that it wouldn’t affect my work so, for six months, I juggled two jobs. I asked former colleagues to plan their weddings, sometimes doing it for next to nothing just so I’d have photos to show potential clients. I planned my first wedding, a Hindu ceremony, on a tight budget and after that business grew by word of mouth. The breakthrough A marketing guru once said it takes six years of hard work to become an overnight success and, in 2016, my business reached a turning point. I had more opportunities than I’d expected; I planned events for Lira, Boity Thulo, and DNA Brand Architects, where I bumped into Bonang. I knew she had a birthday coming up so I was strategic in my conversation with her, and this led to us working on a few events together such as her bursary lunch that took place in March, followed by her birthday party. Today, my business has grown bigger than I could’ve imagined. Establishing a business isn’t easy; you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. During the challenging times, your passion will keep you going.

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