WATCH | South Africans cry with joy after landing back home

2020-05-17 17:21
CemAir flew 78 South Africans home on Sunday (Supplied)

CemAir flew 78 South Africans home on Sunday (Supplied)

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"It's good … good to be home," a South African said joyously on Sunday. And then the tears fell, like rain.

James de Wet was one of several dozen South Africans, who arrived back home in an emotional touchdown at OR Tambo airport after a "rescue mission" flight down the length of Africa.

Their incredible journey home took 20 hours – in a dramatic, "all stations" series of flights, from north to south, picking up stranded South Africans, group-by-group, country after country.

The flight touched down at OR Tambo at around 07:00 on Sunday and carried 74 South Africans in total: 28 stuck in Morocco, 17 from the Ivory Coast, 10 from Burkina Faso, 12 from Mauritania and seven from the Congo.  

"I cannot explain what it was like to land in each country, and welcome on board new groups of relieved South Africans. I will remember this forever," said returning fellow-countryman Ryan Muller.     

The deputy-speaker of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament, Beverly Schafer, told News24: "Project 'Home Away From Home' (HAFH) has been assisting South Africans stranded across the globe since lockdown in SA on 26 March, 2020.

"To date, HAFH has been involved and assisted with the 4 945 stranded South Africans that have returned to the country over the past two months."

READ | 78 South Africans finally being repatriated from northern African countries

On Sunday, it was the turn of 74 South Africans scattered across the continent of Africa.

Schafer explained: "On the 15th March, the group got together and formed a WhatsApp Group to coordinate a plan to be repatriated. All their attempts to request repatriation from the South African government failed, despite flights sent to regional countries such as Egypt to collect stranded South Africans. They felt that they were completely cast aside.

"We are ecstatic, to say the least. We thank CemAir for bringing these South Africans home and reuniting them with their families," Schafer said.

Muller, from the East Rand, has been in the Ivory Coast since 15 March, where he and a colleague had been working, training various church groups. 

Uniting as South Africans

He told News24: "After experiencing much frustration, in dealing with the government, we've been fighting our way to get home for six weeks. 

"We established several WhatsApp groups, comprising dozens of South Africans, across the continent of Africa - and we've been working day and night to help each other all get home. It has been an incredible experience - uniting as South Africans, in many distant lands, who all just wanted the same thing: to come home - regardless of race, language or financial standing.

"We were able to work with CemAir, and the Home Away From Home team, to finally organise this rescue mission, all by ourselves," Muller said.

De Wet, of Durbanville in Cape Town, was among many South Africans in Morocco, who had been stranded for nine weeks, and said: "We could not have done this without the airline CemAir. If it was not for them, we would not be here right now."

CemAir CEO Miles van der Molen said: "We have worked closely with a huge range of people. These included the South African embassies, in a number of African countries, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Transport, and a range of others. It was an honour to have been able to hear our South African compatriots' calls, from around the continent, and deliver them safely home."

READ | 'We want to deal with crisis at home' - stranded South Africans in Morocco want government help

He added: "James de Wet deserves a massive amount of credit, for everything he did, for so many South Africans."

Van der Molen said Sunday's flight was the fifth of its kind - with a further three still to fly - covering most major centres across the continent. 

The returnees were transported to a hotel in the suburb of Melrose in Johannesburg, where they settled, to begin their quarantine period.  

De Wet thanked the South African government's Department of Public Works for their highly organised, professional and caring treatment.

"They made us feel very special. People were waiting for us, the buses were there. We felt quite special, racing down the highway in a police convoy, lights flashing …

"It was a moving experience coming home. I phoned my wife, and she just burst into tears. It's good. Good to be home," an emotional De Wet told News24, shedding a tear of gratitude and relief.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said, since the lockdown had been implemented, it had facilitated the repatriation of almost 5 000 South Africans by air from various parts of the world.

"However, many more remain destitute, distressed and stranded abroad as many countries remain under lockdown as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19," it said in a statement.

Dirco added that the process to repatriate is not easy and is coordinated by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints), with the guidance of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

Read more on:    cemair  |  lockdown  |  coronavirus
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