Not enough food, sleepless nights, death — repatriates speak of fears in Wuhan

29 March 2020 - 14:59 By Nonkululeko Njilo
A group of South Africans repatriated from Wuhan in China ended a 14-day quarantine period on Sunday.
A group of South Africans repatriated from Wuhan in China ended a 14-day quarantine period on Sunday.
Image: Graeme Hosken

South Africans repatriated from Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in China, have spoken of their sleepless nights, fear of dying and starving while abroad.

They grappled with these thoughts, day and night.

Bongiwe Dinyane, originally from the Eastern Cape shared a moving speech on Sunday as the repatriated group was preparing to be released — into a national lockdown — having tested negative for Covid-19 after spending 14 days in quarantine at The Ranch resort in Limpopo.

“After being in quarantine and lockdown for 51 days in a foreign country, away from loved ones, feeling devastated, not allowed to go outside, you start to skip meals because you are afraid to run out of food,” said Dinyane.

“You wave goodbye to each and every flight that you see because you are wishing that you can be there too,” she said in a trembling voice.

“But somebody remembered us. You didn’t just evacuate us but you also [brought hope] to our families, especially our parents who had sleepless nights and lost appetite,” she said.

Dinyane has since vowed to volunteer as a means of showing her gratitude.

“I will always volunteer and avail myself whenever our country, our world need volunteers, in any kind of risk because I know somebody once risked his or her life to save mine. Thank you Mr President. Thank you SA.”

Mphetha Motaung echoed similar sentiments. “We would like to thank you for repatriating us because we really thought we were going to die, and we did not want to die away from home,” he said.  

They expressed gratitude to all of the volunteers who left their families, risking their lives travelling to China to bring them home.

The group spent quarantine at the resort outside Polokwane. The resort was declared a no-go area at the time.

 “This [The Ranch] feels like home and none of us want to leave,” quipped Motaung.

President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the resort a “green zone” during a visit on Sunday.

“We’ve gone past the 14 days of quarantine and everybody in this facility has been tested and found to be negative ... We are now able to declare the ranch a green zone. It has been a red zone all along as you know,” said Ramaphosa.

Limpopo premier Stanley Mathabatha thanked all involved in the repatriation exercise. He said their names would be written in the books of history for helping the country at such a “crucial time”.

He urged the group going back to their families and loved ones to educate communities  about the pandemic. “You must be able to teach our people about the virus.”


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