South Africans stranded aboard amid Covid-19 lockdown share their anguish
Cape Town - More than a 1000 South Africans abroad are pleading with the government to bring them home after being stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic and worldwide lockdown.
Concerned father Neal Stacey, of Sunvalley in Cape Town, who has been looking after his daughter’s dog in Parklands, said his daughter, Chantel Steyl, was stranded in Thailand.
Stacey said the trip to Thailand was a birthday surprise for Chantel, her husband Richard Steyl, and their children Kameron and Kay-lee to celebrate the birthday of his son-in-law and granddaughter on March 26 and 27. “But it has all gone pear-shaped.”
Speaking from Bangkok, Steyl said: “Yes, we are stranded in Thailand. We are a family of four. There are over 200 South Africans stranded here in Phuket and Bangkok.
“We came here on a holiday but two or three days after we arrived, Singapore closed its borders and our flight was cancelled. We called our travel agent who told us she would try to find us alternative flights home, and suggested we cut our holiday short,” Steyl said.
She said they were due to come back on April 2, But their travel agent started looking for flights home and found a flight with Ethiopian airlines for March 28. “Two days later we got a call from Sta Travel, instructing us to go to the airport immediately and change our flight, as a friend had told her the president would be closing the airports.”
She said they drove on a scooter for over an hour to get to the airport, only to be told that Ethiopian Airlines doesn’t even have offices at the airport, and Bangkok Airline couldn’t help.
“We rushed back home to try to connect online with Ethiopian Airlines, without success. We then contacted our travel insurance to find out what we could do. They told us travel insurance doesn’t pay for alternative flights and we must sort it out ourselves.”
Newly weds Brandon and Iris Nxumalo-De Smidt, who went on honeymoon in Brazil, described their ordeal, saying they were frustrated and stranded with no money. “All we want is to return home,” they said.
The two hail from East London. Brandon said the government had told everyone they were initially able to return to South Africa, “if they had a booked ticket with any airline before the shutdown. Then they amended it to any South African citizen stuck abroad”.
But, he said, on the morning they were to depart, they were notified that they had to pay for their flights. “Imagine, people have used all their money and funding to get to São Paulo from other South American countries, only to be told they must now pay again to get home,” Brandon said.
Parliament’s international relations and co-operation portfolio committee chairperson, Tandi Mahambehlala, said the committee has noted with gratitude that South African missions abroad were working to locate South Africans stranded in different countries and facilitating the evacuation of those who are willing and able, as and when it becomes possible.
“It is commendable that the missions have prioritised those stranded at airports without accommodation, the elderly and the sick, and will be in a position to approach the receiving countries to facilitate flight clearances for chartered flights to bring back some of the citizens,” Mahambehlala said.
South Africa’s ambassador to Brazil, Ntsiki Mashimbye, said the repatriation would take place today, adding that 61 people had been confirmed for the flight.
Mashimbye, said: “The South African diplomatic missions in Brasilia and São Paulo have been working for the past week to facilitate a repatriation flight from Brazil to South Africa. The world is facing a medical emergency far graver than what we have experienced in over a century. Never before in the history of South Africa has our country been confronted with a health threat on this scale.”
He said in their interconnected world, these were uncharted waters for the entire global community. “The closure of borders has resulted in bureaucratic nightmares for all countries, and South Africa is faced with similar challenges,” Mashimbye said.
International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor said her department was trying to ensure South Africans were safely evacuated.@SISONKE_MD