Pro surfer Jordy Smith among latest wave of repatriated South Africans glad to be home
Durban: Surf's up!
Well, it’s not quite happening yet for local surfer Jordy Smith, who hoped that President Cyril Ramaphosa would announce an easing of the lockdown rules this week.
That would have enabled Smith, who is counted among the best surfers on the planet, to let rip on the waves again. But for now, he is happy to be back home in South Africa after a two-week delay, which included being stranded on OR Tambo International Airport runway with his wife and other passengers for a few hours after disembarking from a US repatriation flight.
Local authorities were still busy securing quarantine accommodation for citizens returning from the US, while Smith and the others were contending with the cold Johannesburg evening of May 4.
Smith was in Hawaii, US, when the lockdown began and forced to reel in his planned trip to compete in Australia, and return to South Africa.
After 10 hours of flying from Hawaii, via Los Angeles, to Washington, Smith and his wife Lyndall were not assured seats on board two planned repatriation flights.
“Some South Africans had run out of money and were sleeping at the airport, wondering how they would get back home. Each of them had proof of payment but no e-tickets. Some got left behind.
"There were rows of empty seats on the flight home; that was heartbreaking and didn’t make sense for us.”
Smith described the more than five-hour delay after touchdown at OR Tambo as “nerve-wracking.” He said the authorities’ failure to give reasons for the delay had been frustrating.
The delay was due to an accommodation establishment that was meant to be a quarantine site cancelling its contract, forcing the government to find an alternative at the eleventh hour.
Smith said they were eventually housed “at really great place” in Johannesburg. He and his wife were released from their quarantine facility on Monday by the on-site doctor.
They were able to have private Covid-19 tests and submitted the results to the doctor, who ordered their release.
Smith said hewas looking forward to lockdown rules for surfing -which was, in any event, a “social distancing sport”.
Daniel Stewart of Drummond was another South African who was lockdown in the US and recently caught a repatriation flight home, having planned to return at the end of March.
Stewart, who is spending time in quarantine at a Johannesburg hotel, is grateful to all the people who have made his imminent return home possible. He appreciated the work done by the staff at the South African Embassy in the US, the SAA crew, OR Tambo staff who welcomed him and 230 other passengers with open arms, and the hotel staff and nurses who are helping him through isolation.
“For some it certainly was a catastrophic experience and I appreciate that many people have gone through trauma and heartache.”
But Stewart believes that when he looks back at this experience one day, he will regard it as an “exciting adventure and smile about it”.
As an animal behaviourist focused on the welfare and humane treatment of animals, Stewart has worked with leading world health bodies and animal rights groups, and had a loaded diary when he travelled to the US on March 2.
He had “a week of freedom” and got some work done before the lockdown kicked in. He was in South Carolina at the time.
Having been locked down well past his planned return, Stewart said he got a “glimmer of hope” in mid-April when the government gave attention to him and other South Africans in similar circumstances. It was unsettling when he did not receive responses from authorities to his emails.
“But when the media reported there were 1000 people in the same situation, it became understandable.”
Stewart said it was initially planned for him to fly home on May 4, and he was “shocked” when his flight was cancelled. However, he said after the embassy assured him that he would depart five days later, “I was smiling again”.
Stewart was tested for Covid-19 earlier this week and is awaiting the result.
He hopes to be reunited with his partner and his dogs soon.
Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said the delay Smith and others had encountered was a first-time occurrence.
He said the department had established a 24-hour command centre in Pretoria to facilitate the repatriation process.
He confirmed that since the lockdown, it had handled more than 4 000 repatriations, with new cases daily.