Returning to South Africa during lockdown

I am proud to be a South African and proud of our government for what they are doing during these unprecedented times.

I and many others were repatriated from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday April 21 – due to there being no flights.

More than 100 people, who had to travel over 1 500km, required a permit to do so.

By 1pm on Monday April 20 we still did not have a permit.

I am grateful for what ambassador Ebrahim Edries, who is the South African deputy head of protocol, and the Solly and Zohra Noor Foundation did for us.

Not forgetting the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the Covid-19 National Command Centre (NCC), the embassy in Saudi Arabia and Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor.

With their help, we received our permits by 4.53pm.

We were four people, one of whom was a six-month pregnant woman, who left Al Ahsa around 6pm on Monday.

We travelled through the night for more than 12 hours.

We were stopped more than 15 times by Saudi government officials.

Due to restrictions, the driver could not bring someone along to help him drive, and none of us were allowed to drive.

My main role during these 14-hours was to keep the driver awake as we kept going in stormy weather.

I could see each hour and daytime breaking, during this time I realised that every minute and hour counted.

The driver at this stage needed sleep but he kept going.

Around 7.30am on Tuesday morning, I could see that we would never make it to the airport in time.

I called Johnny from our consulate in Jeddah and told him that we would be late

But there are several factors for an airline to delay the flight. We were only four. There were 35 other people in a bus four-hours behind us.

We arrived at the King Abdulaziz International Airport, at 8.30am, on the ground floor.

I took one of my bags and a backpack, ran up the stairs to the first floor, where I was met with some strange looks from officials, who asked whether I was Courtney.

They looked relieved then but asked me to run towards the counter.

Now remember I had a pregnant woman also hoping to catch this flight. While running, I asked an official to go and assist them on the ground floor – several bags and three women. My temperature was checked and I was on my way.

We all eventually made it through all the check-points and were bused to the aircraft that waited just for us.

When we got on the aircraft at 8.45am, they closed the doors and the flight departed at 9am.

The Noor family really did an amazing thing.

We would have been arrested if those permits were not sorted.

We arrived at OR Tambo International Airport – were screened for Covid-19 and our temperature was checked again, before disembarking the aeroplane.

We were directed to passport control and put on a bus. They only allowed four people in one bus.

We fetched our bags, which were already waiting alongside officials beside the aeroplane for us.

We had to collect them and put them in our taxi. This entire process took four hours.

We were taken to a government-quarantined site. Our temperatures checked again and some of our details recorded.

I saw a doctor on site and most of the officials dressed in personal protective gear (PPE). Police officers were around to keep order.

We got to our room and from there it will be 14 days inside. We cannot set a foot outside.

I am from Cape Town and I still do not know how I will get home.

But I cannot complain because of the wonderful reception and treatment received on our arrival.

I feel that the government will give us directions.

Day 1 is almost complete.

All of this would never have never been possible if we did not receive assistance from the following people – in no particular order: Minister Pandor; South African ministers and deputy ministers; the Noor family; Dirco; our NCC; the embassy in Riyadh; the consulate in Jeddah; our ambassador in Saudi, C T Rubushe; Home Away From Home WhatsApp group – Zain; Saudia airline; Edries Ebrahim; Farzana Mohammed; Tony Fynn (Nada International School in Saudi Arabia); Al Othman Holdings in Saudi Arabia; Jeremy Micheals; Justin March; Tamara Esau; Cameron Dugmore; Karlind Govender; and our driver, Naveed Iqbal Bashir Ahmed.