Love Is Not Tourism: Families separated by SA lockdown share their plight
Every day Michael McTernan stares at a photograph of himself with his wife Cara O'Connor and their seven-year-old son Enda on a safari vehicle. The picture was taken just weeks before he left South Africa in March to travel to the US.
Currently, in Athens, McTernan has travelled from the US to New Zealand, his home town, to Athens in Greece, spending every waking moment trying to find ways to reunite with his family and keep himself safe from the rising Covid-19 pandemic. His wife, an essential worker, and son remain in South Africa, but it may take months before he gets to hug his family again.
The 45-year-old said he was in the US to obtain police clearances for his application for a spousal visa when the border closed.
“I think the SA government should let foreigners who are direct family members of citizens and permanent residents to enter the country. It's not fair for children to be away from their parents for this long. If an incident happened with my family in SA, I am unable to do anything to help. I do not mind following all the requirements. I want to be with my family again,” he told IOL Travel.
McTernan said that government needed to find innovative ways to let travellers come into South Africa, such as offering quarantine safaris for two weeks, which he believes will boost the tourism industry.
McTernan is just one of the couples who have spoken out about being separated from their loved ones.
Canadian Laura McMahon and her South African partner Jesse Jeffrey have been separated for months. Picture: Supplied
Many couples revealed their plight on the #LoveisnotTourism and #LoveisNotTourismSA website, a movement that hopes to attract attention to governments across the world.
On its website, it reveals: “It is obvious that we must halt tourism to protect us and others. But love is not tourism. This is not just about a summer holiday, it is about mental health and the future of people all around the world.
“We as international lovers and families urge governments of all states to amend their travel restrictions. Allow the unbureaucratic and safe reunion of partners in long-distance relationships as well as family members.” (sic)
Canadian Laura McMahon and her South African partner Jesse Jeffrey have been separated for months.
McMahon was on a trip to Canada to obtain a certificate of non-impediment to marry Jeffrey in South Africa when she heard about the lockdown and border closure.
“It has been four long and painful months of separation. Instead of building a life together, we find ourselves on endless video calls at odd hours of the day, lamenting our situation, and feeling utterly hopeless.
"#LoveisNotTourismSA aims to reunite separated families and non-married couples. We understand that the government has been dealing with a lot, and we agree that ours wasn't a priority compared to some of the other issues. However, after four months, and no foreseeable end to the pandemic, we feel the government need to look at creative solutions.
"Our lives have been devastated because of this. We feel we should be allowed to travel before the government considers opening up tourism since the activities we wish to do are low risk. We want to comply with all the safety rules and are happy to quarantine. We appreciate all the government has done to listen to feedback and modify regulations where possible. We hope our case will be given equal thought and care,” she told IOL Travel.
She recently submitted a 37-page document confirming the veracity of their relationship, including shared expenses and future plans.
For more information, visit https://www.change.org/p/love-is-essential-south-africa-allow-bi-national-families-to-reunite