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'Longest eight weeks of my life': green light to repatriate South Africans stuck in African states

A South African stranded in Morocco is ecstatic that he and other South Africans stranded in three other African countries will soon be repatriated to SA.
A South African stranded in Morocco is ecstatic that he and other South Africans stranded in three other African countries will soon be repatriated to SA.
Image: 123rf.com/Jaromír Chalabala

A South African man stranded in Morocco for eight weeks cannot believe  that he and other South Africans stuck in three other African countries will finally be repatriated  on Thursday evening.

“We just want to celebrate the fact that we are eventually going home. I cannot believe as I sit here ... I can say that tomorrow I am going home. It has been the longest eight weeks of my life,” James de Wet said from Casablanca in Morocco on Wednesday morning.

A flight to repatriate South Africans stranded in Morocco, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and Congo has been given the go-ahead. 

The flight by CemAir will pick up about 34 South Africans in Casablanca on Thursday evening. It will then depart for Nouakchott in Mauritania to pick up more passengers. From there, it will fly to Abidjan in Ivory Coast and then to Pointe-Noire in Congo before flying to Johannesburg.

“At about 2 o'clock this morning, we got the green light. It is all good. It is all sorted,” De Wet said.

De Wet and 33 other South Africans found themselves stranded in Morocco in March after the lockdown saw the cancellation of international air travel.

From the beginning of April, travel restrictions were lifted to allow for evacuation of foreign citizens in SA and for repatriation of South Africans.

There were attempts to organise a flight to pick up the South Africans in Morocco in the middle of April, but the flight never materialised.

De Wet said on Wednesday that CemAir had done tireless work to get stranded South Africans scattered around Africa back home.

“When the focus was on long hauls and people all over the place elsewhere, they worried about Africa. This is their longest repatriation flight and deserves a special story,” De Wet said.

He estimated that it will take about 18 hours to reach Johannesburg, with all the stops and refuelling.

De Wet said the cost for the flight back home was around R18,000 per person.

“Thinking about the ridiculous charter quotes we got seven weeks ago when we were trying to get out of here, the cost is approximately R18,000 for a return flight. That is pretty fair,”  De Wet said.

De Wet thanked CemAir CEO Miles Van der Molen and said he saw these flights as a humanitarian exercise and not as a profit exercise.

“He and his team need to be applauded,” De Wet said.

De Wet also thanked the department of international relations & co-operation for getting approvals and co-ordinating landing rights.

“There was definitely involvement from them and we thank them for that. If they don't say something happens, it does not happen. They were part of it all and we thank them,” De Wet said.

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