South Africans tell of stressful battles to get back home
Durban - More than 400 South Africans stranded in foreign countries because of the Covid-19 lockdown were repatriated to South Africa in under a week, according to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco).
Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said close to 5000 people had been repatriated in total using air, and hundreds using land borders.
Annalien Fouché from Richards Bay, whose 26-year-old son had been stranded in Mexico since the start of the SA lockdown, said she was relieved when he arrived on Saturday night.
“He's definitely very happy to be back, but very tired. I haven't even spoken to him yet,” she said.
Fouché said it had been stressful because two of her son’s connecting flights from Mexico to Doha were cancelled by the SA government.
“I’m so tired, the stress has just been immense," she said. "You can do everything you possibly can to follow regulations and make bookings, but if it’s out of your hands”
She said for a young man who didn’t have a lot of money, it was hard for him to pay for a 10-day hotel stay in Dallas while waiting for his flight to Doha.
“I was in despair and my main aim is that people can just realise what's happening, not just to my son but to hundreds of South Africans stranded overseas.”
The South African embassy in Mexico gave him a flight that was signed off by the government in arrangement with Qatar, said Fouché.
Mark Gettliffe, 65, of Leisure Bay, on the KZN South Coast, who spoke to The Mercury two weeks ago, has been stranded in Mumbai since March. On Monday, he said he had made all necessary arrangements and had medicals for a repatriation flight and hoped to be assigned a flight soon.
“It’s getting very difficult in Mumbai and there's a sombre atmosphere. I think the reality of this situation of the virus is kicking in and everyone, foreigners and nationals of India, is feeling like, ‘What are we going to do?’” he said.
Gettliffe said it was a very difficult time for people all over the world who might be stuck. “There are some who may not make it on this flight when it happens, because they just can’t get to either Mumbai or Delhi.”
Gettliffe’s fellow traveller, Douglas Jardine from Johannesburg, said he had been booked on a repatriation flight from Delhi on May 22. According to a notice he received from Dirco regarding the flight, the cost of the ticket was R15 000.
The business owner said he was fortunately not in distress despite being stranded, because he had enough funds.
However, Jardine said there were many other South Africans in distress.
“I'm very thankful and relieved that their ordeal will soon come to an end,” he said.
Dirco posted on their Twitter page that a long-awaited flight landed on Sunday carrying South Africans who had been stranded in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Morocco, Ivory Coast and the Congo.
The department did not indicate how many people were on the flight.
Based on flight information from Dirco, 236 South Africans arrived in Johannesburg at OR Tambo International Airport from Doha in Qatar on Saturday, while 35 arrived from the city of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Ngqengelele added that 377 passengers departed from Johannesburg for Qatar on Saturday.
Last Thursday, 107 SA citizens arrived from Pakistan, and on Wednesday there were three flights from various African countries.
Sixteen South Africans were repatriated from Windhoek in Namibia, 24 from DRC, 53 from Angola, one from Botswana and nine from Equatorial Guinea.
“Thank you for all the hard work and dedication by officials at the South African embassies, officials at the 24-hour Dirco Command Centre and the crew of FlyCemair for co-ordinating this massive project,” said Dirco on Twitter.