Our baby’s never been outside: parents stuck abroad yearn to come home
The situation of some of the South Africans stranded overseas is complicated by birth and pregnancy
Please SA, bring us home.
This was Danielle Maaske’s plea after being stuck in China for months.
Maaske is one of the more than 3,600 South Africans stuck in foreign countries following a national lockdown.
“I am stuck in China with my husband and baby of five months [born in China], waiting to be repatriated as soon as possible,” Maaske says.
We left SA to travel and experience the amazing Chinese culture while we were still young enough to do so.
She and her husband have been in China for two and a half years.
“We left SA to travel and experience the amazing Chinese culture while we were still young enough to do so and make a little money for a good foundation for our future when we return home to SA,” she says.
Even though her experience in China has been great, she feels it is time to come home.
“We have family and friends in SA. We WeChat call often to chat about the food we miss, the outdoors we long for and what we look forward to most about when we come home,” she says.
“I want to take our baby outside, which we haven’t been able to do because she was born in such a time as this. My baby of five months hasn’t been for a picnic, walk for some fresh air or even seen family and friends. We’ve been indoors for six months now.”
Since the birth of her baby, Maaske has been surviving on the 40% pay from her current job and prays she can come home and help with the family business.
She says even though her baby was born in China, she doesn’t get citizenship.
“We have registered her at the SA embassy, but it takes months to get a passport and birth certificate. So in order to leave China, we need to apply for an emergency travel document once we have the repatriation flight details.”
Maaske and her husband Kyle are surviving on the little savings they have. Both are English teachers and have taken a 60% cut. “But my school has been only paying me 40% – which is a lot more than others have been paid, so I am very blessed.”
She now has even bigger worry: her father has been diagnosed with cancer back home.
“I wish I would wake in the morning with the news of our flight. We are packed and ready to go."
Maaske is not alone. Khungeka Sibanyoni, who is 34 weeks pregnant, fears giving birth in a foreign country without money, a job or a roof over her head.
Sibanyoni, who also has a 23-month-old baby, stays in a flat she shares with her boyfriend. Due to reduced working hours and salary, she is now contemplating sleeping outside the SA embassy to draw attention to her plight.
She is one of the South Africans who stayed behind in China when the government announced a national lockdown. But her teaching contract has since been terminated, and she has no income.
“I would rather starve at home than to starve in a foreign country,” she said.
But SA Airlines spokesperson Kirby Gordon says expectant mothers are advised to plan necessary air travel during the second trimester when it is considered most safe to do so (18-25 weeks).
However, different airlines had different policies on expectant mothers in later phases of pregnancy.
“Generally, moms-to-be will be allowed to travel with medical clearance from a doctor, especially in these kinds of circumstances. Generally, airlines don’t accept pregnancies of 36 weeks or more – some will impose a lower limit on multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets etc), which will go down to about 32 weeks,” Gordon said.
This week the DA called on the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) to repatriate South Africans stranded abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. The DA estimates that between 3,750 and 4,250 SA citizens have been repatriated, saying “many more remain stranded and are appealing to Dirco”.
Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele says his department has from the start of the lockdown asked South Africans to register with their missions abroad and has managed to register about 3,600 South Africans asking to be repatriated.
Ngqengelele said the focus was on those who were already stranded at the airports, students who had been kicked out of their residences, the elderly and the sick.
He called on South Africans still abroad to register with their missions. In addition, a 24-hour command centre has been established where South Africans who are unable to reach our missions can call for help. Its number is 012-351-1754 or 012-351-1756.