'We live daily in fear' - SA man in China desperate to return home with wife

Leicester Maneveld, from Cape Town, with his wife Dandan Chen (Supplied: Leicester Maneveld)
Leicester Maneveld, from Cape Town, with his wife Dandan Chen (Supplied: Leicester Maneveld)

A South African man who went to China to get married and meet his in-laws wants nothing more than to return home with his new wife so they can escape their isolated life as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Leicester Maneveld, 32, from Ottery in Cape Town, teaches English online and met his wife, Dandan Chen, on the internet.

He moved to Nanjing in April last year to meet her family and they got married in September.

It took a while for them to obtain all the documents they needed for her spousal visa for South Africa, but they finally submitted an application to VFS Global in Shanghai on January 13.

They have anxiously been waiting for updates about their application as well as scanning the headlines for news about the virus.

Difficult situation

Maneveld said he loved China and thought it was an amazing country, adding the virus had left them in a difficult situation.

"Now that all of this has been going on, I have kind of ended up being stuck in Nanjing. We are in extreme agony now. We don't know what is going to happen," Maneveld told News24.

"We live daily in fear and even though we are told the situation is being monitored, we continue to see the [infection] numbers rise."

He hoped for news from South African authorities about how they were assisting citizens overseas.

Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize indicated there was no evidence to support repatriation or emergency evacuations of South African citizens in China.

Maneveld said he tried to make the most of keeping to their skyscraper apartment in Nanjing, a city about 600km east of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first reported.

He added he could see families in neighbouring skyscrapers also walking around their apartments, appearing despondent.

"My father-in-law made it his responsibility to get fresh vegetables every day from the local grocer which is a wet market.

Extreme anxiety

"You can imagine there is extreme anxiety around the fact that my in-laws get their vegetables and meat from a similar kind of place where this whole virus started out in Wuhan."

Maneveld said he had to force himself to eat despite his fears.

It did not help that fake news was circulating about the virus, such as a claim that it was airborne, he added.

"We just don't know what the hell to do anymore. The last thing I want as a foreigner is to be stuck in China being ill with this virus or even just to be stuck in general."

On Monday, Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtien assured South Africans abroad that their needs would be met.

"Foreign nationals in China are our friends, for any health assistance - trust us."

"Trust China, give the hand to us. Give us the confidence and strength and trust that you are safe, the system is working," Lin said at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria.

Maneveld appealed to the Department of Home Affairs to try and fast-track his wife's application.

"Home Affairs do know but need to understand we are normal people and just want to carry on with our lives. I simply just want my wife home with me."

Home Affairs media manager David Hlabane told News24 it dealt with each request on its own merit.

The current turnaround time for a spousal visa was eight weeks.

Signs of improvement

Hlabane said since the temporary deployment of two additional relief officials to the missions in December, the turnaround times were showing signs of improvement.

"The application can be fast-tracked in instances where a person provides compelling reasons why the application should be fast-tracked," he said.

At present, both South African missions in Shanghai and Beijing were closed until Sunday.

According to the international relations and cooperation department website, all decisions on visa applications were made by the consular section of the South African embassy.

Hlabane said the mission closures were part of measures taken by the Chinese government to deal with the current health situation.

He confirmed short-term visa applications to South Africa did not require a medical check.

Those applying for long-term visas had to submit medical reports.

"In addition, and as part of normal procedure, clients are screened by the Department of Health at airports upon arrival."

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