A holiday filled with souks and lantern-lit dinners in Morocco and a contract in Ivory Coast to bolster the family’s finances with visits to rainforests on days off all came to a screeching halt as the world closed down due to the coronavirus.
For thousands of South Africans, who did not make it through the boarding gates before the dreaded travel bans kicked in, the quick interventions that have been made to keep everybody in one place to “flatten the curve” has led to dreadful isolation, and in many cases, financial devastation.
But flying over the continent on Saturday night and showing up among the few cargo and other flights, is a repatriation flight, this time a plane carrying 74 South Africans desperate for home soil.
They are being repatriated by the volunteer project, Home Away From Home (HAFH).
No more money
Some have been unable to travel since 26 March, and while being stuck in Morocco may sound dreamy, according to HAFH volunteer Beverley Schäfer, who is also a MPL in the Western Cape, it was anything but.
“Some people have been stuck in hotel rooms for two months and cannot go out for fresh air,” said Schäfer, who is also deputy speaker in the provincial legislature.
“We have also helped some get the medication they need.
She added the lockdown had taken a terrible psychological toll on many of the people who seemed to be overlooked for repatriation flights, watching flights to and from Egypt leave them behind. Many ran out of money, and eventually had to “make a plan” to pay for the extremely expensive air ticket required for their repatriation on chartered flights.
Many passenger planes are flying empty to ferry people, which is driving the costs up for those being repatriated.
Schäfer said that for some reason, citizens stranded in that region of Africa were overlooked for previous repatriations, so Saturday’s flight came as a relief to its passengers.
They were not contactable for an interview as they were on the plane, but according to posts on Facebook seen by News24, the departures themselves have been fraught with administrative requirements such as the correct permits to travel to the airport, and constant changes of minor details that spark fears that flights will be missed.
The complexities of the arrangements have also seen exhausted South Africans and other nationals waiting for hours to hear which quarantine facility they must go to, or waiting in other countries holding out for the tiniest inkling that they may leave for home soon. The group is expected to land in Johannesburg at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday, and will go into two weeks’ quarantine as required.
The flight was running slightly late on Saturday as it had stopped to fetch people in Morocco, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo.
People were in these countries for a variety of reasons – some for holiday and others working in the oil, gas and mining industries.
Schäfer said almost 6,000 people have been repatriated through HAFH so far with the help of Cem-Air and charter flights.