The South African government has spent US$556,000 on air tickets to repatriate 5,239 stranded nationals from abroad since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in March, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday.She attributed the low cost of the repatriation exercise to two things: some of the returnees were already in possession of their own tickets.
The second reason was a donation of jet fuel from the country’s energy and chemical company, Sasol, which donated jet fuel to the state-owned South African Airways — the airline of choice for the rescue flights, Pandor said.
Due to these two factors, the minister said, the government’s original budget of US$5 million for the exercise has greatly been reduced to the $556,000 cost so far.
The minister, however, said the repatriation has not been easy given the various restrictions implemented by countries across the world.
“The process involves a lot of negotiations with multiple stakeholders, which explains why we cannot repatriate some people as speedily as we wished,” Pandor said.
She said those repatriated included nationals who were “stranded at airports, students who were asked to evacuate their places of residence as many countries were implementing lockdowns, the elderly and those who needed medical attention.”
To coordinate the repatriation process, her ministry has set up a 24-hour Command Centre to help those who are unable to reach embassies to register their predicament in the countries they are stranded in, Pandor said.