A terminally-ill bishop from Karnataka stuck here amid the COVID-19 lockdown and longing to go back home was among 336 passengers and four infants who left for India in a charted Ethiopian Airlines flight on Sunday.
The passengers also included an eight-member Christian group from Goa visiting South Africa on a religious seminar but having landed in jail and another 15-member group of Hakki Pikki tribe of traditional healing oil makers from Karnataka.
Almost all the passengers were from various southern states with about half of them from Hyderabad alone, said Anju Ranjan, Consul General in Johannesburg, who coordinated and arranged for the stranded Indians to fly back to the Telangana capital via Addis Ababa.
Ranjan arranged repatriation of Indians with assistance from Satguru Travel and India Club, a group of expatriates, who have been undertaking community service work in South Africa for nearly two decades now.
The Karnataka bishop has been suffering from the last stage of cancer and got stranded here amid the lockdown, said India Club officials, adding his only desire was to die in his homeland.
“The group from Goa was here on a religious seminar but had landed in jail as they were unable to pay for their accommodation in a hotel after their extended stay due to the COVID-19 lockdown,” said Ranjan, as she flagged off several buses bedecked with the Tricolours.
“The Consulate General of India with its efforts, was able to get them released and put them on the charter,” she added.
A Hakki Pikki group of 40 people was stuck in South Africa, mostly in Johannesburg and Cape Town, for the past five months and had no means to travel back to India, said Ranjan.
“The Indian High Commission and consulates in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, with support from the business community, was able to sponsor tickets for 12 of them to travel back to India on the charter flight,” she said, adding the three others managed to buy tickets on their own.
“I would like to thank the India Club for their initiative with a chartered flight with Satguru Travels; as well as the local community and South African government for assisting in this mammoth task of sending these passengers to Hyderabad,” Ranjan said.
The passengers were in buoyant mood. Most of them did not mind even paying Rs 17,000 each for their air tickets, almost four times the normal single airfare between Johannesburg and Hyderabad.
Ashish Sharma of Satguru Travels said they had rallied to the call from Ranjan, and the company provided as many sponsorships as it could for the Indian citizens who had been stranded in South Africa.
India Club officials said with more than half of passengers hailing from Hyderabad, it would make their mandatory quarantine periods on arrival easier than what it would have been had they landed in Delhi or Mumbai.
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