Family desperate to bring daughter home

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Lusanda Sixaxeni. Photo: Supplied
Lusanda Sixaxeni. Photo: Supplied

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A travel insurance policy that was meant to cover Lusanda Lindokuhle Sixaxeni while she was overseas lapsed hardly a month after she left the agency that had hired her to teach English in China, the family revealed this week.

City Press understands that an agent informed the family about the cancellation of the insurance but the family wants to keep this confidential.

In the meantime, 27-year-old Sixaxeni’s body is lying in a mortuary in Beijing and her family is racing against time to raise enough money to repatriate her remains before the authorities in China decide to cremate her. 

Lusanda Sixaxeni. Photo: Supplied

City Press understands that the family has raised less than R100 000 of the R400 000 needed to bring Sixaxeni’s body home.

Lusanda’s mother, Nomonde Sixaxeni, told City Press this week that her daughter had resigned from Think Sea English in August and that she had planned to return home on September 13.

Nomonde said: 

She rejected a contract extension and resigned because she was planning to return home

But Lusanda fell ill on September 6 and passed away at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing on September 12 – on the eve of her planned return to South Africa.

City Press has learnt from the family that Lusanda left Wall Street English, the company that initially hired her in September 2019 to teach in China, when it allegedly went bankrupt in June last year.

She was then recruited by Think Sea English in August last year, and resigned a year later.

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City Press asked the department of labour and employment if the two companies were registered in the country.

This is because the department issued draft legislation in 2019, requiring companies to register and comply with the country’s labour legislation when recruiting locals.

Teboho Thejane, spokesperson for the department, said Wall Street English was not registered in South Africa. He said the Employment Services Act was designed to regulate the registration of all recruitment agencies.

“Citizens are encouraged to check if the agency [they use] is registered with the department,” Thejane said.

COST OF REPATRIATIONS

At least 124 bodies were repatriated to South Africa from different countries in the 2020/21 financial year, according to the annual report from the department of international relations and cooperation.

Lusanda is the third South African to die in China this year. NomaQocwa Blackie (29), from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape, was found dead in her Shanghai flat on April 18. The cause of her death is still unknown.

Blackie’s body was repatriated, but not without a dispute, as the Chinese authorities queried her abridged birth certificate.

Siphesethu Mqokozo (30), from Ezigcagceni village in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, died on the way to hospital after suffering from a panic attack last Thursday. She was also an English teacher, based in Yangzhou in Jiangsu province. Her family is raising funds to repatriate her body.

Pieter van der Westhuizen, general manager of funeral services at Avbob, one of the larger funeral companies facilitating these repatriations, said it had brought back bodies to South Africa and had sent others to their home countries around the world.

But Van der Westhuizen said Avbob’s activities were curtailed at the height of Covid-19 due to the lockdown restrictions.

He said repatriating a body costs about R100 000, but there were other variables to consider that could increase the amount.

“It will not always be the same price, as the weight of the deceased is a factor. The mortal remains in transit are considered cargo. In neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia, [repatriations] are done by road. Currently, it costs between R7 and R8 per kilometre [to transport the remains],” Van der Westhuizen said.

He added that, when bodies needed to be flown home, it could cost between R70 000 and R150 000, depending on the destination and what airlines charged.

Van der Westhuizen said, depending on the distance travelled, transporting bodies by road was much cheaper.

He said: 

Repatriation [of bodies] is expensive, therefore sufficient insurance should be a consideration

For the past three years, the demand for funeral- related insurance cover has increased, as has the number of the people insured.

HER LAST MOMENTS

Vuyani Ngqawuza, a community leader in kwaNonqaba in Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, where Lusanda was born, wrote to local officials, including International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, asking them to assist the family.

Ngqawuza said Lusanda was discovered in her flat by a South African who was part of a group she belonged to. The person went to check on her after her parents raised an alarm after failing to reach her for a few days.

“They were concerned, so someone who lives 60km outside Beijing, was brave and went to check at her flat,” he said.

On arrival, the person was not allowed to enter the flat, as the landlord said only officials would have access to it. Lusanda was reportedly found unconscious inside on September 6.

He said: 

The cause of death is sketchy, in the sense that, when they discovered her, she was dehydrated


Ngqawuza questioned the circumstances surrounding the teacher’s death, claiming that it could have been “a result of oppressive and abusive operators within the recruitment agencies that hire locals to teach overseas”.

THE BRICS FACTOR

Ngqawuza said the family had appealed to Pandor to intervene. “So, a Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] member country such as China must do whatever is possible to act humanely and within the protocols of their treaty. Those five countries are supposed to have each other’s backs, not only in business but in international relations too.

“Each country’s citizens’ interests, such as having a right to life when you are in hospital, as well as your right [to dignity] when you have passed on in a Brics country, should be covered. You should be treated as a human being and accorded the respect we give in South Africa to all people once they are no more – irrespective of their colour or financial status,” Ngqawuza said.

Naledi Pandor Photo: Franco Megannon

He made a similar plea in his email to Pandor and her officials. Ngqawuza wrote that Lusanda died from health complications not related to Covid-19.

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After a couple of years in China, he said Lusanda fell in love with the community she worked in, their culture, traditions and her students.

“Please reason with the government of China through the South African embassy [in Beijing] and the relevant authorities in China to please preserve the mortal remains of Lusanda so that she can be repatriated to South Africa, as our cultural customs compel us to bury the physical body and not ashes,” Ngqawuza wrote.

The family indicated that the department had not responded to their pleas.


CHINESE SOVEREIGNTY

However, spokesperson Clayson Monyela said they had responded to the family. He said the department was constrained by diplomatic relations between countries, which hinged on respecting each other’s sovereignty.

Monyela said the Chinese government had a specific number of days for families to claim the body of a loved one and have it removed from the mortuary.

He said it was understandable that African families did not always agree to cremation because of traditional beliefs, but this was a cheaper option.

NO EXCEPTIONS

Another difficulty, he said, was explaining to the family that government worked within the country’s laws.

“For instance, if we make an exception for one family and say we understand that the family doesn’t have the resources [to bring the body back] and we will pay, one of the consequences of that is you violated policy. When the Auditor-General audits our books and we can’t explain that expenditure because of the violation of policy, we will get a qualified [audit],” Monyela said.

The department would have to account in Parliament before the standing committee on public accounts. Pandor and Director-General Zane Dangor would have to take responsibility for that, he added.

And now the Auditor-General is empowered to demand that money from the pocket of the director-general. You see, that’s the problem with the laws and policies of government – if you violate them, there are consequences.


“So, the policies are there to protect everyone and to also ensure consistency and [to prevent a situation that we are perceived to be] making decisions on the basis of who [we] like and who [we] don’t like.”

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