The Essack family. Picture: Supplied.
The Essack family. Picture: Supplied.

South Africans stuck abroad: 'We just want to come home!'

By Clinton Moodley Time of article published Apr 3, 2020

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Going on holiday is one of the most exciting times for any traveller. It provides an opportunity to explore a new destination, relax and escape from reality for a few days. Sadly, the dream of holidaying turned into a nightmare for thousands of South Africans stuck abroad due to the Covid-19 outbreak and travel restrictions. 

Cape Town resident Chantal Steyl had planned the perfect holiday to surprise her husband and daughter for their birthdays in March. The family of four was all smiles when they left South Africa on March 17- eager to explore Thailand. 

The family got the go ahead to travel by their agent as Thailand was not considered a high-risk destination at the time. They went knowing that they would need to self-quarantine for 14 days when they returned. 

“We booked with Singapore Airlines. Our travel agent assured us that it was safe to travel. We heeded to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling that all South African returning from high-risk countries would need to be screened and self-quarantine.”

A few days into their trip, the Steyl family heard that Singapore would close its borders. Having not received any correspondence from the airline, the family decided to cut their trip short, which supposed to end on April 2. 

That’s when the nightmare began.

Singapore Airlines was unable to refund the Tableview residents' their tickets, so they stretched their budget to book alternative flights on Ethiopian Airlines. 

“The earliest flight we could get was for March 28 on Ethiopian Airlines,” said Steyl, who is currently staying at a self-catering property on Naiyang Beach with her husband and two children. 

“Everything went downhill from there. Our government announced a lockdown in South Africa, meaning that South Africans in foreign countries had until March 26 to reenter the country. If not, they would have to stay at their holiday destination until the situation improved. 

“We immediately rushed to the airport on our hired scooters. The only available flights were on Qatar, but there was no way we could afford R50 000 for an economy-priced ticket.”

The Steyl family found no joy with their travel insurance provider. The travel insurance provider via email stated it was unable to refund air tickets as it needed to be discussed with the airline directly.

The Steyl family. Picture: Supplied.

The family are around R80 000 over budget. 

“I have my two children with me, and I am worried I won’t be able to support them if we are forced to stay here until the end of April.

“I also have my animals at home and a dog who is in an animal hospital after undergoing spinal surgery. 

“We plead with our South African government to make provisions for our return,” she said. 

Washielah Essack and her family planed their 10-day holiday to Thailand for months. 

“This was our first overseas trip, and we were so excited to experience a new place. Just a few days into our trip, everything turned into a nightmare. 

"Besides the South African lockdown, Thailand implemented new restrictions every day. The country made a ruling that all airports will be closed from April 10 to 30, which clashes with the lockdown dates for SA. All hotels will close from Monday, April 6. It is all very overwhelming. We just want to come back home,” she said. 

Johan Barkenhuizen, who is currently stuck in Amsterdam, travelled to Paris from Cape Town to volunteer on board the Sea Shepherd ship in February. 

Barkenhuizen, a solo traveller, travelled on the ship for three weeks.

The ship was quarantined for two weeks. 

When he disembarked, he flew to Amsterdam for a connecting flight back home after hearing that South Africa will commence a 21-day lockdown on March 26. 

However, many flights could not enter South Africa due to the lockdown restrictions. 

"After the speech, I immediately made arrangements to go back home. Unfortunately, the airports in South Africa was closed earlier than expected, at midday and not midnight as per President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"I do not know what my next plan of action is going to be. I am just going to take it one day at a time. I hope something can be done to get us home," he said.

Darren Bergman, the founder of the Home Away From Home project, aimed to assist South Africans stranded abroad, said the group was founded just days before South Africa went into lockdown. 

He said they were the middle man between the stranded South African travellers and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). 

“We aim to get as many South Africans home as possible. South Africans stranded are facing many challenges, including financial difficulties, lack of medical supplies and some face homelessness as many accommodation properties are closing. 

“Our platform is aimed to offer support and link travellers in the same area together. We will not stop supporting them until every one of them is home safe,” he said. 

South African stuck abroad are urged to visit these following links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2929500917131757

FAQ for South Africans Stranded Abroad:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kHK5MGkItj34KpVmxgdgFt9uSotzQb_V/view?ts=5e85b1f4

Trauma WhatsApp group for Stranded South Africans: https://chat.whatsapp.com/LAKIdLZomfSH9oXih4Qq3d

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