‘How the coronavirus affected me – I was placed on unpaid leave and had to return to SA’

Masixole (Photos: Supplied)
Masixole (Photos: Supplied)

The coronavirus has affected us all in different ways – and this man’s story is just one of many.

When Masixole from Khayelitsha in Cape Town was informed by his manager about a possible job in the hospitality industry in Dubai, he knew he couldn’t pass it up. 

In 2015, an excited Masixole packed his bags and relocated to the UAE (United Arab Emirates), where he started his new job as a restaurant manager and has lived for the past six years.

However, when Dubai went into lockdown in March, the ripple effect of the regulations soon started to trickle down to businesses. As a result, the 32-year-old was one of many to feel the pinch after he was placed on unpaid leave.

This is his story:

“Life in Dubai was amazing. The safety as a South African from Khayelitsha is something you just can't get enough off. It's a land of opportunity, especially for those in the hospitality industry with over 11 000 restaurants and cafés.

The people are very curious (in a good way). The second question to every encounter with a stranger is ‘where are you from?’ And as soon as you say, South Africa, the response will almost always be ‘Nelson Mandela’.

Dubai caters for everyone, be it low-income or high-earning, everywhere you turn there’s a cafeteria offering hearty meals as cheap as AED 10 (R46). There is always a sale in the malls and public transport is available 24/7 at very low prices. 

However, when the pandemic hit the country things started to change. 

Dubai went into lockdown from 31 March. While we were still allowed to run essential errands until 8pm, businesses such as restaurants were heavily affected by the financial implications of the lockdown restrictions.

The restrictions lasted for a month and shortly after that, restaurants gradually reopened and I was allowed to return to work albeit under strict regulations to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.

Masixole (Photos: Supplied)
Masixole (Photos: Supplied)

The joy of returning to work was short-lived because business was down and salary cuts were introduced. On 1 June my employer informed me that we’ll be placed on unpaid leave – this was without any allowances, like for housing etc.

They also gave us the option to resign, in which case the company would award you with all your contractual benefits and return home. I chose to take unpaid leave which is indefinite and can last up to six months. 

As South Africans in Dubai, we are a very close family that look out for each other. When I shared my story with fellow South Africans in our Facebook group, I received a lot of insight on the steps to take.  Some offered food and housing which was highly appreciated.

I contacted the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) on 3 June. On 12 June I was informed that on 18 June I would be repatriated back to SA.

I arrived in South Africa a week ago and I’ve been in quarantine in Johannesburg before returning home to Cape Town.  The quarantine facilities are very comfortable although very lonely, the nurses conduct daily check-ups and we’re provided with three meals a day.

Being home brings a sense of relief, I now have the opportunity to plan my next steps and be close to my family in these times of uncertainty.

I’ll turn to Dubai in due course because I want to open a free training centre for basic hospitality training in Khayelitsha for the youth. My aim is to save up enough money while working in the UAE so I can realise this dream.”

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