Naledi Pandor. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Naledi Pandor. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The government has repatriated more than 5,000 SA citizens during the Covid-19 national lockdown, international relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday. 

A total of 5,239 South Africans returned home via air, with hundreds more arriving through the country’s land borders, she said. This means that more South Africans have been repatriated than the initial 3,637 who requested to return home.

Many South Africans who had traveled overseas before the 21-day national lockdown was announced in March were not able to return home as all ports of entry into the country were closed. 

The government then stepped in to assist citizens in distress, which included those stranded at airports; students who were asked to evacuate their places of residence as many countries were implementing their own lockdowns; the elderly; and those who needed medical attention.

Pandor said that with time, the government began to receive requests from other categories of South Africans who either lost their jobs due to companies and schools being affected by the coronavirus lockdowns, or simply ran out of money to continue to sustain themselves abroad.

The minister said the process of repatriation was not easy, given the various restrictions implemented by countries across the world and involved a lot of negotiations with multiple stakeholders.

In the coming days and weeks the government will continue with the process, and will include repatriation from the US, Russia, Vietnam, India, Qatar, and the UK, Pandor said

She said her department is aware of many other South Africans who remain stranded abroad and continues to appeal for their patience as the department explores and negotiates ways of bringing them back home. 

Pandor said the government has spent less than R10m on the repatriation process. This was due to the donation of jet fuel, which significantly reduced any cost the government might have had to bear. 

“We have had very good support from the private sector with the provision of jet fuel, particularly by Sasol ... which has allowed us to make use of SAA,” Pandor said.

She said citizens repatriated were, in the main, able to pay for themselves, so the government did not need to spend large amounts of money.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za