Mandy Makhanya fulfilled a lifelong dream by traveling overseas to teach English in Vietnam, but little did she know that the Covid-19 pandemic would turn her dream into a nightmare.
When Mandy Makhanya arrived in Vietnam earlier this year it was with mixed emotions. She was happy to be living her dream, but somewhat sad at leaving behind family and friends in South Africa.
It was shortly after the Chinese New Year that the dream started crumbling. As the holiday drew to a close, Makhanya was looking forward to returning to work.
But the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the Vietnamese government put a stop to face-to-face teaching. She started teaching online, but with fewer work hours came less pay.
It wasn’t long before Makhanya could no longer pay rent, commute, or buy food, and on 2 March, she purchased a ticket to South Africa on a flight scheduled for 2 April.
It was at this point that the first Covid-19 case was recorded in South Africa and a nationwide lockdown was declared, and flights were cancelled as the country’s ports of entry were ordered to close.
Luckily, Makhanya was able to change her flight to 18 April but in another turn of events, the lockdown in South Africa was extended.
At this point she had already resigned, believing she was headed home. Fellow South Africans in Vietnam came to her rescue, offering her a place to stay.
Makhanya is increasingly worried about the future. All that is standing between her and coming home is a 12-hour flight. Money is running out and to top it all, she is a diabetic and suffers from hypertension.
She doesn’t have medical aid cover and uses the little money she has left to purchase medication.
“I need to get home urgently. I have only one insulin pen left, and no blood pressure medication,” she describes her anguish.
Realizing that she had to do something, Makhanya on 31 March sent details of her plight to the Consulate. She also contacted the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) in Pretoria, which in turn referred her to the South African Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.
She spent four frustrating days trying to get hold of the embassy, finally reaching someone who assured her that a list of South Africans who needed to be repatriated was being compiled and sent to Dirco.
“I joined several WhatsApp groups of South Africans who are still in Vietnam. We compiled a list with everyone’s details and tried to arrange a chartered flight, but this also didn’t come to light. I have no doubt that our details are with Dirco and they have full knowledge of our situation.”
She recently learned that a repatriation flight would be leaving from Bangkok on 8 May. But once more, it seems Makhanya got the short end of the stick, since the Thailand borders are closed.
“I really want to be on that aircraft, but Thailand’s borders are closed, and there are no flights to Bangkok. I am at my wits’ end. I just don’t know what to do.”
Caxton Local Media reached out to Dirco for comment, and the following reply was received from the spokesman, Clayson Monyela:
“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation continues to facilitate the repatriation of South Africans (who are) stranded in various cities across the world. Despite the difficulties of international travel as occasioned by lockdowns and closure of borders globally, we have successfully facilitated the repatriation of close to 2 000 South Africans from over 29 countries. In line with the regulations, they have all been transferred to various quarantine sites in Gauteng.”
Monyela said the department wishes to assure all South Africans who are stranded abroad that it is doing everything within its powers, to facilitate their return.
He said their efforts were constrained by regulations that were introduced to limit the movement of people globally to curb the spread of Covid-19.
“Negotiations are ongoing with countries and other stakeholders to allow stranded South Africans to travel. We deeply empathise with all who are still stranded abroad including in Vietnam, Peru, Indonesia, Thailand and other countries. We appeal for everyone to remain patient, as we explore options on how to bring them back home. Our embassies have been told to reach out to these nationals to render assistance.”
Reporting by Lowvelder