South Africans stuck in Peru lockdown told to ‘hang in there’

Two South African women who are stuck in Cusco in Peru have been to “hang tight” while they wait for the state of the emergency in that country to be lifted.

Nunu Ngoasheng and Tshepi Marishane travelled to South America on March 8 for their friend’s wedding, which was supposed to take place on March 20. 

On March 15, the president of Peru, Martin Vizcarra, declared a national emergency with a 15-day quarantine and other travel restrictions. The lockdown was to have been lifted this week, but was then extended to April 12. 

Peru is among many countries, including South Africa, that have closed their borders in a bid to flatten the Covid-19 curve. 

On Monday Peru had 852 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 18 reported deaths. 

The two had planned to travel in South America before attending their friend’s nuptial ceremony, which was to have taken place in Rio in Brazil.

“The decision [by the South African government] has always been to hang tight actually. They have constantly told us to hang tight and stay strong,” said Ngoasheng, laughing, during a Zoom call with the Mail & Guardian.

When the restrictions were first imposed, the two women said they were confused about what it meant for them and what they should do. While they were trying to contact the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), their flight to Rio was cancelled. 

Ngoasheng said people could not change their ticket without going to the airport, but officers were not letting people in unless they had confirmed flights. So they contacted South Africa’s international relations department to ask for assistance.  

“They told us they are going to assist us with flights and contacted the airline, but nothing came to fruition from that. We were in contact with Dirco almost from the moment they announced a state of emergency, but nothing has happened and we have not received any assistance from them,” said Ngoasheng.  

Marishane said other people have managed to get out of Peru because their governments have made arrangements to pick up their people. 

“We are just stressed,” said Marishane, adding that they are using their emergency funds to pay for their hotel. She said they might need to ask their parents for help financially if they remain there until the state of emergency is lifted. 

Ngoasheng said she feels disappointed that no one has come to their aid: “Just in terms of Tshepi and I’s background, we do come from a situation where I think we have connections [to] literally the highest office in the land, but that did not obviously result in anything.” 

On Tuesday afternoon Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula provided an update on efforts to evacuate foreign nationals stranded in South Africa. New directives from the Covid-19 National Command Council now allow for certain categories of international passengers and technical flights to depart and land. 

This includes flights to repatriate 1 471 South Africans stuck in other countries, but they will have to pay their own way home and allow themselves to be subjected to a quarantine period of up to 21 days.  

The Democratic Alliance’s Darren Bergman, who is responsible for international relations and co-operation, said some people are safe, but some “are in some hair-raising situations; living in airports, living in hotels where they are about to be evicted because those areas are about to be on lockdown; some running out of medication or money or food”.

The party sends its updated database to the international relations department every day.

South Africa’s efforts to repatriate its citizens abroad have been slow, or often it relied on other governments to handle its citizens. Last month, before the government brought back students who were stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in China, the M&G reported that government officials said that the Chinese authorities should be left to handle South Africans based there.

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