’I am free again, and will not trade SA for anything in the world,’ says former Durbanite after China ordeal

Time of article published Aug 12, 2020

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By Marlan Padayachee

Amid calls for the government to move to a level two lockdown, one of the Covid-19 pandemic’s near-victims, Joel Timothy Challenor, declared on Women’s Day: ‘’I am free again. I am very happy and greatly relieved to be out of my quarantine all alone in my hotel room.’’

Challenor had to put his life on hold for almost six months after being stuck in China due to the coronavirus.

Despite testing negative, Challenor is still worried about the country’s Covid-19 situation: almost 600 000 confirmed cases with the Western Cape edging towards 100 000, and cumulative deaths exceeding 10 000.

‘’We have to reassess the way we are treating our environment, climate change and our relations with Mother Earth.’’

Challenor, who is looking forward to continuing with his studies, confirmed: “I have just received my coronavirus post-quarantine report. I am relieved that I have tested negative.’’

‘’My journey from Wuhan to Benoni and Welkom, and now Cape Town, has been most challenging. I am not bitter, but I am very grateful that our government came through for us in the final days of our plight in Wuhan.

‘’I believe the government could have done more to repatriate us sooner,’’ he said. Challenor said the Zimbabwean Embassy in China had helped about 200 South Africans and Zimbabwean nationals. The group was stranded for weeks pending repairs to the Air Zimbabwe plane in Kuala Lumpur in July.

The passengers – each paying R17 500 for a seat – finally boarded the plane and were cleared for take-off from Wuhan on July 27.

With much fear and anxiety, but also huge relief, the passengers arrived safely at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

After customs and testing, the South African passengers were quarantined at the Kopanong Hotel and Conference Centre.

On Monday afternoon, many families were reunited.

By Wednesday, the 22-year-old former computer sciences University of Pretoria undergraduate and his sister, Keah, 25, a law student, were on the road to Cape Town to ‘’start our lives all over again’’.

The harrowing experience had separated the siblings whose parents, Robin Martin and Kathy Challenor, are expatriates teaching in China, for almost a year.

Keah and Joel have been living in a global bubble since their parents uprooted the family from their home in Glenwood, Durban. They attended schools in the Free State and the United Arab Emirates while their parents were carving out new careers, one as a lecturer, the other in teaching.

Despite travelling to exotic destinations, the siblings have decided that – particularly during the current coronavirus lockdowns – home is the best.

‘’I just love South Africa, it is my home and (nothing) will replace it,’’ Keah said as she settled behind the wheel of her parents’ SUV for the 1 153km journey to Cape Town.

‘’I am free again, and will not trade South Africa for anything in the world,’’ said Joel.

Before heading to Cape Town the siblings returned to Welkom, in the Free State, for the first time in years to fetch Joel’s car, which was in storage.

The drive back to their old home amid was a déjà vu experience for the pair as childhood memories came flowing back.

While the country’s jobs crisis rages on, the Challenor siblings are fortunate in that their parents will continue to fund their studies.

Joel will soon enrol to complete his training and work study to become an auto-electrician.

Keah, once she has completed her fifth year in law, will head back to Johannesburg for her two-year attorney’s articles with a commercial corporate law firm in Sandton.

‘’I hope to become a tax lawyer, and I also want to pro bono (free) legal work in human rights. The coronavirus episode has taught me life lessons.

‘’From our personal experiences, we have learnt that South Africans have to become mindful of the difficulties and challenges facing our fellow citizens. Covid-19 has taught us that the time is right for kindness, and we must all have the will to support those around us.’’

They said their parents hoped to visit them next year once the worldwide travel ban has been eased.


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