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SA man arrives home from Ukraine, thanks Pakistan and wishes Pretoria had evacuated citizens

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’I just wish our government could go far beyond the means to ensure that as residents and citizens we are safe.’

Rescuers remove debris from a school building damaged by shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. Picture: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

PRETORIA – South African citizen Kaone Molefe landed at the OR Tambo International Airport on Monday, where he thanked well-wishers and the Pakistani government and missionaries who helped him to flee war-torn Ukraine through several countries including Poland and Germany.

“There was no monetary assistance from the (South African) embassy. To be honest, I made my way through. I connected myself through various organisations. I just want to applaud the Pakistani government because I met a Pakistani resident who helped me navigate and connect with all these missionaries,” Molefe told television channel Newzroom Africa after he arrived to a warm welcome from his family.

ALSO READ: We had to watch on as Namibians, Zambians were evacuated from Ukraine – SA student

Molefe said he was aware that other African governments had provided evacuation facilities for their citizens trapped in Ukraine.

“I also want to thank the missionaries that have done some great work. It’s difficult to get back at a time like this, but I must say a lot more Europeans are giving more than they should. There is nothing that you can say you need. They provide shelter, baby food, food, clothing, toiletries – whatever you need, you name it and they have it,” he said.

“I just wish it was like that in Africa. I just wish our government could go far beyond the means to ensure that as residents and citizens we are safe. The Nigerian government just flew out (its citizens) … a flight landed yesterday in Abuja. Our country cannot say the same. It’s just sad.”

He added that “our government needs to reconsider their stance on what they are doing for the youth”.

“For an ambassador to tell me that the government doesn’t have money, it is quite devastating. It is actually unfathomable. I just give thanks to the Lord for being alive,” said Molefe.

He also recalled his ordeal of getting to the border once the Russian shelling started, and how he was assaulted and witnessed racism and molestation of women.

“It was very gruesome. It was a very lengthy journey of about 24 hours. I travelled throughout the night,” he said.

“Once we got to the border we had to walk for five hours. After walking for five hours, we had to stand in a queue for about 12 to 14 hours. After that, we got to the front and we got all these racial prejudice situations whereby people of colour were being subjected to pepper-sprays and multiple levels of abuse.

Molefe said some women attempting to flee the war were sexually molested.

“I just thank God that I was able to jump the fence and make it through to the exit point (but) I was still subjected to assault. I just thank God I was able to make it alive. Really for me, that’s the big thing. At some point, I thought I wouldn’t make it this far,” he said.

“At some point I thought I wouldn’t be able to be where I am. To be in that frame of mind is not a place you wanna be. It’s a very dark place.”

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation said it had an operational evacuation plan for South Africans stuck in the war-torn region.

“We are trying to get people into neighbouring countries, where we do have representation. From there, they are coming to South Africa using the usual means of transport. That, in the main, is what we are doing,” said Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor.

“The challenge we are having is that we are not obliged by law to know about everyone who is in Ukraine or anywhere. But from the moment this (war) went on, we called upon people to register and we kept them informed with information and when the flights could fly, we made sure that we made them aware of the flights. We also worked on getting people to the borders to ensure they find means of coming back.”

Some of the South Africans arriving from Ukraine have complained that South Africans were not provided with monetary assistance and neither did they receive tickets to return home or chartered planes, as other foreign nationals did. Ngqengelele said in South African law, which governs the Department of International Relations, there was no provision for such a budget unless the decision was made by the Cabinet.

“By law, we are not allowed to offer any form of financial assistance. This also happens when someone dies overseas. We only offer consular services which means we help people with paperwork. We do encourage South Africans that when they travel overseas, they take up insurance. The auditor-general would find us wanting if we provide financial assistance. It would be against the law,” Ngqengelele told IOL.

“What we did, for example with bringing back students from China during Covid-19 pandemic, it took a Cabinet decision. By law generally, we are not mandated to make that decision on our own.”

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