South Africans stranded in Vietnam and Bali running out of money

Dewan van Niekerk and Tielman Herbst. (Photo: Supplied)
Dewan van Niekerk and Tielman Herbst. (Photo: Supplied)

South Africans who have been left stranded in Southeast Asia since lockdown don’t know when they’ll get back home – and they’re running out of money.

In some countries food and medicine prices have risen sharply and with many people unable to work, they’re running out of money to pay for their accommodation. Many also don’t know if they’ll have jobs to come back to in SA.

“It breaks our hearts to think how long we saved – just to end up in a nightmare,” Stacey Peacock says. “It feels like we’re playing a civilised game of Survivor.”

Stacey and her husband, Leon, and their 11-year-old daughter are staying in the Eden Hotel in Kuta, Bali. They flew out on holiday on 17 March and were scheduled to return on 28 March.

“We contacted our travel agency several times and were told to go ahead with the holiday and enjoy it,” Stacey says.

But since lockdown, they and hundreds of other South Africans have been unable to return home. They’re waiting for the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) to let them know when and how they will travel back.

“We budgeted for a 12-day holiday, but we’ve been here for more than a month,” Stacey says.

They’re self-isolating in the hotel and watch TV and play card games to pass the time. “Sometimes we’ll go for a swim. When we need to go shopping, one of the other SA moms watches our daughter.”

Only a few shops and pharmacies are open in Kuta.

“A proper meal costs around R250 so we only have one every second evening. In-between we eat sandwiches and noodles,” Stacey says.

Vandinika and Amar Nathoo, another SA couple stranded at the Eden Hotel, are equally worried about the situation.

“We managed to negotiate a cheaper tariff [with the hotel] which excludes all meals and amenities,” Vandinika tells us from Bali.

The couple arrived in Bali on 16 March. The trip had been a surprise birthday gift to Vandinika from Amar. But because no international flights may land in SA, they’ve been waiting since 26 March to come home.

Vandinika, an occupational therapist from Cape Town, says they’d saved for a long time to make the trip and they’re running out of money. Their staple diet at the moment is instant noodles and bottled water. They watch the news religiously and are in constant contact with friends and family in SA.

“But it’s tough to stay positive,” she says.

Cecilia van Zyl from Upington in the Northern Cape has been stranded in Bali with her two sons for longer than a month.

“I have leukaemia and should have chemotherapy twice a day,” she tells YOU from Kuta. “I went to several hospitals until I found one that offered it [chemotherapy].

“The doctor gave me two weeks’ worth of medication so I’ve had to go back twice. He won’t give me more without doing blood tests.”

Along with the medication, the blood tests are pricey, Cecilia says. She’s bought a single plate stove to make food in her hotel room for the three of them.

“Onions cost R170 a kilogramme and beef R220,” Cecilia tells us. “I’m a widow and work very hard to provide for my kids. It feels like it’s my fault we’re stranded here.”

South Africans who teach English in Vietnam are also without an income at the moment and there’s no indication of work in the near future.

Dewan van Niekerk from Pretoria went to Vietnam in November to teach. He returned to SA in January for a break and went back Ho Chi Minh City in February. He only found out on his stopover in Dubai that Vienamese schools, which were to reopen on 17 February, would remain closed for another two weeks.

“Ever since, the reopening of the schools have been postponed every two weeks,” Dewan tells us from Vietnam. He shares a flat with a fellow South African, Tielman Herbst.

They’d planned to return to SA on 4 April but South Africa’s extended lockdown has dashed those hopes.

“Our biggest challenge is the lack of income since February and no prospect of work in the near future,” Dewan says. The market for online teaching is also saturated now and he’s struggling to find any work.

Rachel Chabalala and her two children live in an outside room on her employer’s premises in Vietnam.

“I came to Vietnam to work as a teacher. We had no plans to return to SA because my kids are in school here,” Rachel tells YOU. “The biggest challenge is to keep paying my kids’ school fees and I’ve since had to take them out of school. It broke my heart – I haven’t even told them yet.”

She’s home-schooling the kids now.

“I’m scared every day that we’ll get more bad news or that our food will run out,” she says.

The family don’t leave the room, except to get groceries.

According to an email from Dirco seen by YOU, negotiations are under way to repatriate South Africans in Vietnam but as yet there’s no indication when it will happen.

The department didn’t respond to enquiries from YOU.

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