It was a joyous and emotional Sunday morning at The Ranch Resort in Limpopo, where President Cyril Ramaphosa finally gave 112 South Africans, who were quarantined at the facility after their repatriation from China’s coronavirus epicentre, the go-ahead to head home.
The repatriates were quarantined at the Protea Hotel facility as a safety precaution two weeks ago, after landing at Polokwane International Airport.
The crew members who fetched them in Wuhan, China, including the SA National Defence Force and SAA officials, and staff were also quarantined, along with the staff at the resort.
All of them tested negative for the novel coronavirus, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.
The repatriates will be ferried out of the province to their destinations on Monday.
Speaking at a send-off for them, the SA Military Health Service’s Colonel Mcebisi Zukile Mdutywa, who commanded the mission, expressed his gratitude to the president.
Mdutywa said although there were uncertainties along the way, he was happy that the team went to Wuhan to successfully evacuate the South Africans and ensured that they were in good health during the 14-day quarantine period.
“My job was easy. [It was] to take South African soldiers to go to China, pick up South African citizens, keep them here under quarantine, make sure they are all healthy and no one has the virus. I did exactly that Mr President.
“I would like to thank you, Mr President, for trusting us for this mission. It was a very important mission,” Mdutywa said.
Rising with a victory song, SAA’s Elias Mazibila – who was part of the crew – said while it wasn’t easy to command with the military, which led the mission, they were able to make the mission a success.
“We volunteered ourselves to go into the mission that you sent us. When we met with the ministers, we said nobody forced us from SAA.
“The training and preparations that we had, we were so ready for anything. We had green zones, red zones and yellow zones. We had a co-ordinator that had to co-ordinate everybody that was in the aeroplane. As my colleague was saying, we are ready for the next mission,” Mazibila said as he smiled.
Ramaphosa hailed the SAA crew, embassy members and officials from the various departments, saying they served with “great distinction” and “precision”.
“I thank you because you volunteered. You were not commandeered, drawn and dragged out. You just stepped forward and said we are the ones who want to be sent. We also thank you for agreeing to be quarantined. We are happy that you have all been cleared of coronavirus,” the president said.
Ramaphosa added that their names will forever be in South Africa’s history books.