De Lille: SA citizens repatriated from the US on Sunday fell victim to a scam

The group was left stranded for hours on the tarmac at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday.

FILE: Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Hon Patricia De Lille in Parliament on 10 July 2019. Picture: @DepPublicWorks/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille on Tuesday confirmed to Eyewitness News that another group of South Africans who were repatriated from the United States on Sunday fell victim to what she called “a scam” when they were taken to the wrong venues for isolation, left without food for hours, and their room keys confiscated.

Some unemployed South Africans who used to work at the temporarily shut Walt Disney World Resort in Florida said they were taken to a building owned by Eskom, which had no electricity.

This particular group was separate from the one that touched down also from the US on Monday night.

The 245 people, which included the Walt Disney group arrived on Sunday and were supposed to be accommodated at two hotels in Johannesburg for quarantine.

Those establishments had already been procured by the Department of Public Works and prepared for isolation, but instead, the travellers never made it to those facilities.

De Lille’s department is now investigating what went wrong.

“Two officials: one in the Department of Health and another in the Department of Public Works, they diverted people away from the hotels that were procured by public works without the authorisation of the Department of Public Works,” the minister said.

Two Capetonian friends started their dream job at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in February, but all that was cut short by COVID-19 imposed lockdowns.

Leora Nates and Christine Runkel, who found themselves unemployed, were eventually repatriated and arrived back in South Africa on Sunday.

But their woes were far from over and what they described as a nightmare unfolded.

Nates said they were treated inhumanely, left for 15 hours without food or water, and had no communication with their families.

“There was no electricity in that building. They took us to a secondary facility [and] the officials had no idea we were coming. They eventually brought out some water and sandwiches, but they didn’t have enough,” she said.

Runkel meanwhile said she hadn’t had access to her luggage, which she desperately needed for her asthma pump.

“We had no contact with our families and no one seemed to want to assist us… we are just really scared, we were not given food or water,” she said.

As both women await results of their COVID-19 tests, they remained in the dark about how long they would have to stay at their unprepared quarantine site.


De Lille has also blamed the Department of Health for not giving them enough time to prepare accommodation for about 200 South Africans repatriated from the United States.

The group was left stranded for hours on the tarmac at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday.

De Lille said her department needed at least 72 hours to ensure all procurement procedures were properly followed before people could be accommodated at quarantine sites.

The minister said she was only informed about the group’s arrival on Monday morning, just seven hours before they landed.

“I have now called for a meeting with the minister of health. In fact, I sent him a letter late last night to say, ‘this is unbecoming, you cannot expect us to break the law by phoning us at 10 in the morning or sending an email to say over 300 people have arrived’,” De Lille said.

The group only left for their hotel rooms at 8 pm on Monday night after arriving at 5 pm.