Bonny Immelman with her son Leslie. She has been stranded in Australia from more than a month.
Bonny Immelman with her son Leslie. She has been stranded in Australia from more than a month.

I feel abandoned by my country, says SA mother stuck in Sydney

By Sameer Naik Time of article published Apr 11, 2020

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Johannesburg - Bonny Immelman is battling to cope.

For over a month now, she has been thousands of kilometres away from her 5-year-old son and not knowing when she will next see him again has given the young mother sleepless nights.

“It’s dreadful,” she told the

Saturday Star.

“I’m a single mom to a 5-year-old son and this has to be one of my worst nightmares. During such a difficult time in the world, all that a person wants is to be with their loved ones.”

Immelman is one of over hundred South Africans trapped in Australia due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

She travelled to Sydney a month ago for a two-week business training course.

“There are so many South Africans that are stranded and all of us would just like to get home to our families,” said Immelman.

“Naturally, I am also concerned that my 5-year-old-son becomes infected with the virus despite the best efforts to prevent this. I suppose it is my motherly instinct playing havoc with my mind at times.”

“I know my in-laws do take perfect care of Leslie but it is still a worry being so far away.”

Aside from being away from her son, being trapped in Australia has put a huge financial strain on Immelman and her family. She is staying in a hotel in Sydney.

“I had budgeted for a two-week stay. I am on my fourth week now. I am very fortunate to have help from my father-in-law but there are plenty of South Africans that have no help at all.”

“There are people who cannot afford the extended stay in Australia. People are struggling to pay for accommodation, food and medication.

Immelman has also been battling mentally.

“This was my first time overseas. I was sent by my company and I was quite nervous seeing that I would be travelling alone.”

“When I got the news that my flight home had been cancelled at such short notice, I was devastated.”

“It is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. Some days are better than others but it is an unenviable situation to be in.

Immelman says they have also received no help from the South African government, and are unsure as to when they would return back home.

“We have barely received any communication from the SA embassy. The only reply I got from the 24-hour Dirco (Department of International Relations and Co-operation) command centre has been an “Out of Office” reply and an automated reply.”

“I have been in contact with the South African High Commission in Australia. Until today, the only advice that we received from them was that it was upon ourselves to make the necessary arrangements to get back home.”

“I did, however, receive an email from them this week, stating that Qantas (Airways) will be sending a flight to South Africa to fetch Australian citizens and discussions were under way with regards to South Africans being allowed to fly home on this flight.”

The government has taken steps to bring a number of South Africans back from other countries.

However, it is those South Africans that have been trapped at airports around the world who have been made a priority.

President Cyril Ramaphosa personally intervened to repatriate 16 South Africans stuck in Dubai.

Flights were also chartered to bring those back who were stuck in Brazil and China.

“I do know that the South African citizens that were stranded at the airport were given priority and rightfully so,” said Immelman.

“I am of the personal opinion that we are only going to be able to get South African citizens home once other countries decide to repatriate their citizens stranded in SA and we can piggyback on their flight.”

“I have seen South Africa send SAA flights to repatriate foreigners back to their home countries but I am yet to see a flight sent purely to repatriate our own citizens. I personally feel very abandoned by my country."

Immelman says they have also not heard anything from Dirco.

“There are families that are in really difficult situations who could have at least felt some comfort had our government demonstrated some concern for the wellbeing of their stranded family members.”

“That is what any self-respecting country should do for its citizens. Israel had aircrafts fly out to South America within days to fetch their stranded citizens.”

Immelman’s family say they too are concerned with the safety and mental health of their daughter-in-law.

“Had the South African government given enough warning that its borders would be closed and not had the knee-jerk reaction it did have, the entire issue could have been sorted out calmly without any fuss.”

Saturday Star

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