Ziyanda Stuurman, 30, is relieved to have landed in Joburg and is counting the days until she is reunited with her loved ones in Cape Town. Picture: Supplied
Ziyanda Stuurman, 30, is relieved to have landed in Joburg and is counting the days until she is reunited with her loved ones in Cape Town. Picture: Supplied

After stressful US repatriation and now quarantine, SA student will finally be with family

By Karishma Dipa Time of article published May 9, 2020

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Johannesburg - After weeks of trying to flee the current coronavirus epicentre of the world, Ziyanda Stuurman is finally home.

Although she is now being quarantined in a Joburg hotel room after enduring a stressful repatriation process from the US, the 30-year-old South African student is relieved to have landed in the country and is counting down the days until she is reunited with her loved ones in Cape Town.

“I would love to be home and with my friends and family, but I completely understand why I need to be in quarantine, and at the end of the day, I’m safe now,” she told The Saturday Star.

The postgraduate student was one of about 200 South Africans who were repatriated from America this week.

While the group that landed at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday night made headlines after they were allegedly stuck on the airport’s tarmac without any food and water, Stuurman said that this was not necessarily the case for her.

She was part of the first group of South Africans who returned to the country. While the process of disembarking the flight to getting to a quarantine site took nearly five hours, she was not needlessly stuck at the airport.

“I was part of the group that arrived on Sunday and we were not stranded,” Stuurman insisted.

After disembarking, she said, they went through immigration and picked up their luggage and then waited for the shuttles to take to take them to the quarantine sites.

Further delays, Stuurman said, were caused by the large group being split into more manageable gatherings so that their passports can be checked individually, luggage collected, with only about 10 people at a time being allowed onto 20-seater buses.

“The main difference between us and the group on Monday night was a miscommunication between the Department of Public Works and some hotels or quarantine facilities which caused a delay in them getting from the airport to the sites.”

According to reports, the South Africans, including surfing champion Jordy Smith and his wife, were flown into OR Tambo on Monday from Washington DC.

They were left sitting on the tarmac for about five hours before they were taken to a quarantine site, which is a mandatory practice for those returning from high-risk Covid-19 areas.

Those who were on the flight said officials appeared to be uncertain about what to do and that they were left in the cold without food and water.

Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) has since distanced itself from the incident and insisted that the Department of Public Works was responsible for quarantine venues.

Meanwhile, Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille, has called for an urgent investigation into the matter.

Despite the stressful repatriation process, Stuurman is just happy to be home and is using her time in isolation productively.

“I have to do a presentation to defend my thesis in order to officially complete my Masters degree. So, I’ve just been resting and completing that presentation.”

“I have also been reading some books and I have been video-calling my family and friends.”

Stuurman has been living in Boston, Massachusetts, since 2018 and has been attending at Brandeis University.

But from March, she was desperate to return home as Covid-19 cases continued to increase in the US.

“I was quite anxious because there was so much happening every single day.”

She began making plans to return home, but with South Africa in a full lockdown at the time, this proved to be a challenging ordeal.

“This made it incredibly difficult to plan how to get home and then it got even tougher when airlines started cancelling flights. That’s really when I started to feel uncertain about what to do because my visa was expiring soon and I knew I couldn’t stay in the US for very much longer.”

As normal flights into South Africa were cancelled due to the country’s stringent measures, Stuurman contacted the South African embassy to try to organise a repatriation flight.

After an initial repatriation attempt failed, coupled with other challenges, Stuurman and other South Africans were finally repatriated on two separate flights.

“It was definitely quite anxiety- inducing,” she said.

“There were a lot of communication gaps between Dirco (The Department of International Relations and Co-operation) in Pretoria, the embassy in Washington DC and SAA (South African Airways.”

“We had to email a lot of people to make sure that the correct staff and officials had our e-mail addresses and we had to pay for our flight tickets, which cost R15150 each, on a very tight deadline.”

Stuurman finally boarded the repatriation flight back to South Africa on Saturday (May 2) evening and landed in the country 15 hours later, where she and her fellow countrymen were subjected to further processes before they could relax at a quarantine site.

“By the time we landed, most of us were tired, but we tried to be as respectful and friendly to the staff who were waiting for us at OR Tambo as possible.”

Despite the long wait, Stuurman believes that all these processes had to be followed in order to prevent the further spread of the deadly virus.

After witnessing what has happened recently in the US, where thousands of people have died from Covid-19, Stuurman has urged South Africans to take the virus seriously.

“There are many, many states in America that are not taking this as seriously as South Africa is, and unfortunately they are seeing large spikes in positive cases and hospitalisations and deaths - we do not want to end up like them.”

Saturday Star

* For the latest on the Covid-19 outbreak visit IOL's  #Coronavirus trend page

** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the government's 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or go to  SA Coronavirus for more information.

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