Shopping trip lands locals in Tripoli ‘war zone’

2011-02-24 00:00

A LOCAL businesswoman, Busisiwe Kheswa, and her sister, Hlengiwe Skhosana, are among South African citizens “trapped” in Libya, following the violent and bloody unrest in the country.

Kheswa’s husband, Siyabonga, is director of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

She went on a shopping spree with Skhosana, and was supposed to return home on Saturday.

Matters took a turn for the worse on their arrival in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, when they found a situation so volatile that law enforcers had to shut down the airport for incoming and outgoing air traffic.

They landed in Tripoli on Friday afternoon hoping to catch a connecting flight to Johannesburg.

The airport was deserted and a lone attendant took their passports to book them into a hotel for the night.

Their luggage went missing and their passports were not returned to them. They fear they might never see their luggage again.

She said the streets of Tripoli are deserted during the day and all hell breaks loose at night, when gunfire can be heard throughout the evening.

Speaking to The Witness from her sixth-floor hotel room, Kheswa said they are terrified because the hotel is deserted and all businesses and other establishments in the city have shut down since the uprising.

The pair slept on benches at the airport on Friday and were booked into the hotel on Saturday.

“We share the hotel with three Cameroonians and a Namibian national. Everyone else is gone and the hotel owner had to be persuaded by the embassy not to chase us away. He also fears for his life,” she said.

They struggle to keep abreast with the developments as no one speaks English to them, only Arabic.

“It’s quite frightening here and one is relieved to hear voices from home.

“I wish you could drag me through this phone to that side of the world. We are told that we might not get back our luggage, but that’s fine. We only wish to be taken back home to be with our families.

“We can’t communicate with families because, on Friday, the government shut down communication towers with the outside world,” she said emotionally.

Skhosana said the country is ungovernable and burning buildings can be seen at a distance.

“It’s like a war zone where during the day you don’t see people on the streets, but come night time the streets are buzzing with convoys and random shooting.

“It’s like in the movies. Protocol delays the whole mission of getting us home and I can’t take this any more,” she said.

International Relations and Co-operation Department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the embassy is negotiating with various other countries who plan to ferry their citizens out of Libya to attend to the South Africans.

“A member from the embassy personally visited the women at the hotel to assure them that their plight is noticed,” said Monyela.

It was reported yesterday that international governments scrambled to evacuate their citizens by sea and that the situation is still volatile.

Latest from Libya: page 5

It’s quite frightening here and one is relieved to hear voices from home. I wish you could drag me through this phone to that side of the world. Busisiwe Kheswa

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