Marufu: queen of motor rallying

Amara’s Health Spa in the upmarket Harare suburb of Borrowdale has an elegant garden, soothing music and an unlikely boss: Zimbabwe’s top female rally driver, Laureen Marufu.

Laureen Marufu and other drivers
Laureen Marufu and other drivers

This morningMarufu has left her driver’s overalls in the wardrobe. She is wearing a slinky grey skirt and a black top that reveals the rose tattoo on her left shoulder. “I’m a go-getter!” she says.

Marufu (35) began her career in motorsport three years ago. She impressed many by finishing ninth in her debut Toyota Challenge Rally in 2010. The following year she moved up three places to finish sixth.

But her luck did not last. Earlier this year she crashed on the opening day of the African Challenge Rally when she hit a tree at Donnybrook.

Marufuhas never been put off by crashing. She remembers the first time it happened, in a rally at Norton.

As her Toyota Runx began to roll, Marufu had just one thought. She wanted it to stop, so she could continue the race. At that point she lost consciousness.

“Then I heard my navigator’s voice saying ‘Laureen, Laureen’,” she recalls.“I replied: ‘Yes, let’s go!’. He pointed out that we were upside down.”

The Toyota Runx was new. “It’s heavy in front, and when it comes to dips, it lands on its nose,” she explains. On this occasion it spun into the bush and rolled seven times before it finally stopped.

“It was actually funny. I wasn’t scared – I just wanted to keep going!” she says.

Marufu is the mother of five-year-old Amara, after whom the health spa is named, and four-year-old Ridwaan. She is used to other women calling her “mad” and says she has always been an adrenaline junkie. Her love for speed started when she was a little girl “driving with my Dad”. She wanted to be the one behind the steering wheel, so when she was just 14 he taught her to drive.

Years later, as her beloved father was dying in hospital, she made the journey from Bulawayo to Harare in just two and half hours so that she could be at his side to “see his last breath”.

Marufu is sad that he never watched her race professionally.

“The difference between normal driving and rallying is so huge,” she says. “I had to learn all over again.”Rally drivers travel at high speed on dirt roads. It requires much more control – and every ounce of focus.

Marufu admits that she wouldn’t want to be“someone else’s passenger at that speed”. She likes to be the one in control.

Even so, her debut race at Donnybrookmade her sweat. Her navigator, Clint Ashdown, was also racing for the first time. “As a new driver I had no idea what this guy was talking about,” Marufu laughs. “I was like:‘Please keep quiet. I’m trying to see where I’m going!’ Three years later, Marufu has won the respect of her male colleagues. Jamie Whyte,African champion and one of Zimbabwe’s most experienced rally competitors, describes her as a “good driver who will go far”.

But motorsport is expensive, and many would-be champions are scared off by the thought of car repair costs. Marufu dreams of a “brilliant sponsor” who will recognise her potential as Zimbabwe’s first woman rally driver. However, she does not expect special treatment just because she is a woman. She knows that “playing the pretty little girl”will not get her anywhere. She learned to be tough at an early age, she says, thanks to “an abusive stepmother” who forced her to set her own goals.

Now LaureenMarufu wants to become “an ambassador for other abused women”, so that they too can get behind the wheel of their own dreams.

Pachine mapurisa akanaka here munyika?
Beatings, torture give strength to carry on

Post published in: News