Stranded abroad

Don, 62 and Anne, 60, Saunders from Edgemead are stranded in Phuket, Thailand.

Being stuck in Rio would ordinarily be cool but not during lockdown. Sandy Doyle of Devil’s Peak and her partner are stuck in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.

They are among over 2 313 South Africans scattered across the world stranded due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the countries are in lockdown and have closed their borders. Meanwhile South Africans are desperately trying to return home.

On Tuesday March 31 President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the relaxation of travel restrictions imposed a week ago to contain the spread of the Covid-19 to allow stranded South Africans, who were abroad, to travel home.

South African Airways have already started 19 evacuation flights departing over the next few weeks. They will depart with about 7 000 stranded Germans, Belgians, Europeans and Brazilians and return with South Africans.

Darren Bergman, a spokesman in the national assembly for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) has been co-ordinating and representing most of the South Africans abroad, through the Home Away from Home chat room. Working with Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor they are prioritising the vulnerable first, through age, medical need, finances and shelter, said Mr Bergman.

Don and Anne Saunders from Edgemead are 62 and 60 respectively. They left home on Tuesday March 17 on what was supposed to be their dream trip. 

They are presently stranded in Phuket, Thailand and has also planned to visit Vietnam and Singapore before returning on Monday April 13. They found out about (airport) closures while on a yacht trip around islands. Discouraged, vulnerable and soon to be broke, they had been staying at a hotel on Karon Beach until it closed on Monday April 6. They have managed to get to a hotel thanks to other South Africans who heard of their plight.

Five months pregnant Amy George, her son Cohen, 10 and her partner Lyle Hartzenberg left home in Crawford on Wednesday March 18 for a weeks’ holiday in Bali. Their flight home was cancelled on Monday March 23 because Singapore closed its boarders

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced lockdown on Monday March 23 they re-booked flights to depart five days later at a hefty cost. Due to a miscommunication with the travel agent they arrived at the airport to find flights to South Africa were closed due to lockdown. They are now living day to day, staying at the Eden Hotel trying to come home.

“Our diet currently consist of noodles noodles and more noodles, our funds are running low and the locals understand basic English. Watching everything around us shutting down we are losing hope very quickly,” they said.

Karen and Michael De Jongh left their Plattekloof home early in March and were in Obidos, Portugal when they heard about South Africa being in lockdown. 

They were not surprised as the rest of Europe was either going that way already or about to. 

Ms Doyle arrived in Brazil on March 13 on an intended five-week tour of Brazil and Argentina. However Brazil closed its borders on March 18 and Argentina was in total lock-down. Their hotels and flights were cancelled leaving them “caught in the crosshairs”.

Allen Sharpe from Strandfontein is one of about 35 South Africans stuck in Cusco, Peru which is in lockdown until Sunday April 12.

Of those stranded abroad, 492 are tourists, 726 are students, 600 people are workers and 495 have not disclosed why they are out of the country.

Shaun Bodenstein of Protea Heights, Brackenfell, is among those who are working abroad. Since early March he has been on an offshore rig in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 

At the time that President Ramaphosa ordered the lockdown they could not arrange choppers to crew change because all the airports in Nigeria were shutting down. He returned to Port Hartcourt and is staying in a room. Mr Bodenstein is fearful of where he will go if he gets infected and he wants to return to protect his three-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.

Tristan Beebe from Hout Bay has been working as a chef in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia since the end of September. He was due to return in May but was told to find his way home by end of April. He found a flight with Ethiopian airlines on Friday April 17 but is worried that it will be cancelled if the lockdown is extended. 

When he watched President Ramaphosa’s announcement of the lockdown, he said: “I felt nervous for the outcome but also proud of his decision. I also felt alone and like I needed to get home ASAP.” 

Clive Robertson and Cher McArthur of Blouberg are desperate to get home because Ms McArthur’s chronic medication is running out. Mr Robertson has been working in Saudi Arabia since the end of February and Ms McArthur joined him early March for a holiday together. Saudi Arabia closed its airports on Sunday March 15.

Mr Robertson said staff and guests at the hotel where they are staying are at a minimum, but there is an outdoor area and they can move freely in the hotel. Uber functions between 6am and 2pm and they are allowed to go to the supermarket or pharmacy as long as they do not have a fever – checks are done as one enters hotels and stores. Lockdown is between 3pm and 6am and strictly enforced with a R10 000 fine and three months jail if they break curfew.

Dylan Kipling is one of 34 South African crew aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Liner that is currently in San Francisco Bay. Mum Leanne Kipling said the plan is for him to come home and stay with her in Noordhoek or his sister in Fish Hoek.

Ms Kipling said Dylan and the others have all been quarantined and since then she has been working tirelessly to find a way to bring them all home. It has been a stressful time, as the ship battled to get permission to allow passengers onto American soil. The crew have all been amazing and the Captain has been keeping their spirits up but these young people just want to come home, said Ms Kipling.

Mr Bergman said all precautions must be taken before and after South Africans board and exit the aircraft. And they will need at least 14 days of quarantine.
Despite the start of evacuation flights, hundreds of South Africans still stranded abroad do not know if they will be able to come home soon.