Mpumalanga man thankful to be home after 17 days stranded in Sudan

A White River resident shared how he was stranded in warn-torn Sudan for 17 days without his passport, and his long journey back to his home in South Africa.

Having been stranded in conflict-torn Sudan without his passport for 17 days and having to share two-bedroom flats with 15 people at a time, a local man says he is extremely grateful to be back home.

White River resident Deon du Toit (58), had been farm manager in Sudan for the past five years.

He is particularly thankful to the non-governmental organisation Gift of the Givers’ founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, his sister-in-law, Waheeda Khan, as well as the South African Embassy in Saudi Arabia, for helping him get the necessary travel documents that eventually allowed him to come home.

On April 15, armed conflict between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, broke out in Khartoum, the country’s capital.

“I was not ever in any real danger while I was in Sudan, but I was in an unbelievably stressful and frustrating situation. Without the help of Dr Sooliman, his sister-in-law, and the embassy, I am not sure how long I would have been stuck there before returning home.”

Du Toit worked as a manager on a farm in the state of Gedaref in Sudan. However, when the armed conflict began, the South African, along with thousands of other expats living in the country, had to start making plans to exit Sudan safely.

Some of the friends Deon du Toit had made in Port Sudan. > Photos: Deon du Toit

“It was quite safe on the farm when the fighting first started. It was concentrated in Khartoum, which was around 700km away from us.”

Several days after the conflict started, Du Toit was advised by his employer that it was time to leave, as his safety could not be guaranteed. There was a problem, however; Du Toit’s passport was at his employer’s offices in Khartoum, as it had been in the process of being renewed.

“The RSF occupied the building our offices were in. It was not possible to leave through Khartoum because of the fighting, and the airport there had been destroyed. I had to make a 19-hour drive to Port Sudan, where the Saudi Arabian government had set up a temporary embassy. It was the only country really helping expats exit the country.”

Du Toit said his employer asked another employee to drive him in a Toyota Land Cruiser, and the pair ended up picking
eight people from the Philippines along the way.

Some of the friends Deon du Toit had made in Port Sudan.

“When we arrived in Port Sudan, there were thousands of expats from all over the world there, and there was no accommodation available. Luckily, the Filipinos we had picked up knew some other people who were staying in a two-bedroom flat, and I was invited to stay with them. There were 15 of us in that flat, and that is where I slept for the next three nights.

“Everyone was so friendly and accommodating and just so willing to help one another. That is an experience I will not forget. I made many new friends,” he said.

Du Toit said that after spending three nights in the flat, he heard of another two-bedroom apartment that had become available, and he quickly made plans to book it.

“I started moving at 22:00 and was not even in the flat when the owner called and said there were around 60 Filipinos outside looking for help.

One of Deon du Toit’s sleeping places in Port Sudan.

“The owner agreed to let four people stay with me, but after coaxing the security guard outside the flat for a bit, there were eventually 15 of us in a two-bedroom flat again. I think the owner knew but just turned a blind eye.

“In a crisis like this, it is incredible how people just want to help one another.”

Meanwhile, Du Toit knew he had to find a solution to his passport problem. He needed to get to the South African Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He said the embassy had managed to issue him a letter confirming his identity and asked Saudi Arabia to help him.

After a few days of back and forth and being refused the chance to leave due to missing documents, Du Toit finally managed to catch a plane to Jeddah. That was mostly thanks to Sooliman’s sister-in-law, Waheeda Khan.

The plane Deon du Toit caught from Port Sudan to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

“What a wonderful person. She was able to organise a plane ticket for me through her travel agent in Jeddah. I was the last person to board the plane,” he said.

However, due to him not having a passport, as soon as he arrived in Jeddah, he was met by the country’s police.

The South African Embassy had arranged to meet Du Toit at the airport.

“But the police would not let anyone through to see me. There was a minor altercation, and then I was led by the authorities to a part of the airport where I stayed for 10 hours without food, water, or any communication through my phone because I had no access to Wi-Fi.”

He said there was a moment when a cleaner at the airport found leftover food from another traveller and offered it to Du Toit, who gratefully accepted it. “I was so thankful, and this is an experience I will never forget. He obviously saw how long I had been there and offered me whatever food he could.”

The food handed to Du Toit by a cleaner at the airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Du Toit was visited by the South African Embassy, handed documents, and told he could leave. He arrived at OR Tambo International Airport just before 04:00 on May 17 and was greeted by his partner, Corene Smit.

“I cannot express how glad I am to be back and to be with my family again. I had to go see the doctor when I arrived home. I was dehydrated and suffering from low blood sugar, but I will be OK.

“I am indebted to those who helped me while I was stranded, and I made many friends and connections for life during the process. I cannot thank the South African Embassy, Sooliman, or Waheeda enough for the help and support they gave,” he said.

He also thanked his family, friends, and Adv Patrick Loots and Alwyn Meyer for their support.

Corene Smit and Deon du Toit.

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