‘Desperate situation’ as British travellers denied entry into SA.
Three days and two nights on the same little six-seater aeroplane at Lanseria, three days in the same clothes, no shower, no bath, scheduled visits only to a toilet under armed police guard – and then gagged by the department of home affairs after the plane owner spoke to Saturday Citizen.
This was the situation yesterday morning on the runway at Lanseria Airport, where three people were kept on the plane after travelling around southern Africa for a few weeks and then finally entering this country from Zimbabwe.
This was after they had received approval for their flight plan from a senior home affairs official.
By late yesterday evening, the three had been released from a “desperate situation” on the plane – which didn’t have enough space for people to stand in or to recline the seats – issued three-day visas and kicked out of the country.
Greg Thornton, the owner of the plane, doubted if the three would ever return after the terrible experience they had had, beginning with one “obtuse” immigration official.
“It was one person not doing their job, not given the right briefing or the right training or the right understanding.
“Don’t send a document out that nobody understands,” said Thornton, the exasperation evident in his voice.
Recounting the traumatic experience, Thornton said his wife was South African and was permitted to leave the airplane when it landed, as was he when by “a complete fluke” he showed the immigration officials his Irish passport.
His pilot, on a British passport, wasn’t so lucky, however, and neither were the other passengers.
“None of us have been near the United Kingdom for weeks and weeks.
“We’ve been doing a tour in my aircraft.
“We’ve been to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and two-anda-half weeks around South Africa before we even left the country,” said Thornton.
The pilot had been out of the UK since the middle of January, Thornton added, and had been to Australia and Hawaii before arriving in South Africa.
Thornton noted a directive at Lanseria immigration stated “travellers from” high-risk countries would be refused entry.
However, the party had come from Zimbabwe, which was not on the list.
It was one person not doing their job
“We got landing permission and presented all our passports before even receiving permission.
“We waited a day and half in Zimbabwe, sitting there waiting to leave,” said Thornton.
“We went from a confined, unable to leave environment in Zimbabwe to an imprisonment situation in South Africa.” Thornton said the British Embassy had not been able to assist because of the many people trapped on a ship in Cape Town, who were now illegally in the country because none of them had visas, which were now required under the new promulgated travel regulations. The call between Saturday Citizen and Thornton was interrupted by another call from home affairs, who Thornton later confirmed had attempted to gag him.
Thornton showed the permit to fly to South Africa to Saturday Citizen, signed off by the deputy director at home affairs for licensing and permits, Mashupjwe Ntanjane.
Home affairs did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Presidency, which had also been a port of call for a desperate Thornton.
Thornton revealed how a home affairs official told him the local civil aviation authority had been spoken to by a member of the department of transport and “civil aviation would look the other way if they wanted to return to Zimbabwe”.
Except Thornton’s pilot hadn’t slept properly over the past three days and had far exceeded his permitted time allowed to fly without sleep. Thornton warned the matter wasn’t over yet, as the three would be returning to Britain with a lot of photographs and documentation to present to a rabid British media.
– The Citizen