Coronavirus: Kiwis stranded in South Africa desperate for mercy flight home


Kerri Selby and her husband had been living in South Africa but were due to move to New Zealand in April.

KERRI SELBY/Stuff

Kerri Selby and her husband had been living in South Africa but were due to move to New Zealand in April.

Kiwis stuck in South Africa are hoping a government-backed mercy flight will bring them home after a private charter flight was cancelled.

Kerri Selby, a New Zealand citizen, and her husband, had been planning to move to New Zealand on April 19 this year. The pair had sold most of their belongings and secured jobs and a house in New Zealand.

“The schools over here started shutting down, and that’s when we got a little bit worried. My teaching job in New Zealand ended up getting revoked and then the borders closed and our flights were cancelled.”

Selby had flights home booked with Emirates, but these were cancelled.

KERRI SELBY/Stuff

Selby had flights home booked with Emirates, but these were cancelled.

The couple are now stuck in their flat in Durban and running out of money.

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“We tried so hard to leave, but we were blocked at every turn,” Selby said.

Selby was one of a number of Kiwis who had signed up and paid for a private-charter flight operated by Lion Air, which was meant to leave this week, but had now been cancelled.

“We got our hopes up, it’s been infuriating. The New Zealand government hadn’t endorsed the flight and so a lot of people were nervous to book it, as they didn’t have enough people they cancelled it.”

Selby said she hoped the New Zealand government would put on a mercy flight as there were “hundreds” of Kiwis stranded in South Africa, but she wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it onto the flight due to the cost.

“If a mercy flight is arranged, it’ll probably be around $11,000 for the both of us, we’re already in debt and haven’t gotten our refunds from our other cancelled flights yet, so we just can’t afford it.

“I’m so anxious and stressed about it, but we’ll probably have to wait until the boarders reopen.”

Antonina Goncalves, a 19-year-old from Hamilton, was also currently stranded in South Africa after attending a cousin’s wedding.

“I really want to get home to my family, I was booked to go on the charter flight but it was cancelled.

“I miss my parents.”

Goncalves said she had spoken with a number of other trapped Kiwis who were “desperate” to get home and see their families.

“It’s really heartbreaking hearing some of their stories, I really hope we get a flight home soon.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said a “great deal of work” is being put in to helping New Zealanders in South Africa get home.

“We continue to work on the feasibility of a New Zealand government–assisted repatriation flight and are in advanced discussions with possible providers, although no final decisions have been made.

The New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria said organising a charter flight was “complex and difficult”.

“We are in discussions with several providers and we are making progress. Any flight which we are able to arrange will be timed to take place on or after 7 May 2020.”

 The embassy said if a flight was scheduled, New Zealand citizens and their immediate family members would be given priority for seats, and it would cost $5,500 per person.

“This reflects the high operational costs and complexity associated with charter flights in the current environment. It reflects a global approach that has been set by the New Zealand Government to ensure consistency across regions and routes,” it said.