A South African woman living in Shanghai claims the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the South African Consulate in the city is failing citizens by not only failing to provide support but also by failing to engage with them.
DIRCO ACCUSED OF FAILING TO ENGAGE CITIZENS
Farzeen Rashed* is a former journalist who’s lived in Shanghai for nearly eight years and claims the “consulate has never really been supportive in any situation” during her time in the Chinese city.
Farzeen and her one-year-old son have been in an indefinite lockdown along with most of the city’s 25 million residents since March.
“It’s indefinite and the impact is huge. There are food shortages and not because there is a lack of food it’s because the government is basically controlling the supply of the food. They’re basically trying to minimise traffic and minimise delivery and contact. Naturally, the supply of food and supplies is affected,” said Farzeen.
Farzeen is connected to the broader South African community in Shanghai via WeChat groups.
A group of South Africans have set up a petition and sent a letter to the Consul General, which calls for more support.
The Consul General Mpho Hlahla replied, in a letter, and said she acknowledges the challenges citizens are facing.
Hlahla said, “all of us in Shanghai including diplomats are facing similar challenges.” She added that her offices have been closed since 14 March and staff is unable to provide full services as expected from home.
As much as these challenges have been acknowledged, Farzeen says DIRCO and the consulate are not engaging with citizens and making assumptions about what it is they want from the South African government.
“They just assumed that we were complaining over a lack of food or a lack of access to food and we don’t want to go to the quarantine facility.
“That’s not the issue at all. When it comes to the quarantine facility, the least we want is for the government to take an interest.
“To take down our details and make sure that they know who we are and that if anything were to happen to us they would contact our families.”
One of the requests in the petition asks for the establishment of “A clear line of contact for South African Citizens to get in touch with the Consulate or Embassy for individuals confirmed positive” and “A procedure to follow if an individual has been confirmed positive.”
Demi Brodie, a South African teacher in Shanghai, recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was shipped to a centralised quarantine facility.
She said she had no idea what to do after she received a call from the Chinese CDC and made multiple attempts to notify the consulate of what was happening to her.
She said DIRCO finally made contact with her on 21 April – four days after she arrived at the quarantine facility.
‘SOUTH AFRICANS NEED SUPPORT’
Farzeen has also been in touch with several consulate and department officials because she had concerns as a mother.
She called the consulate’s emergency number and reportedly explained the issues citizens were facing and offered suggestions on how to help because apparently, the consulate said their hands were tied.
“I said that South Africans need support and they can do this in many ways because she was saying that they cannot do anything.
“I said you can also ensure that our people who need to go to the quarantine facilities receive the necessary support like counselling support.
“I said you need to know who of our people are going there and keep track because they can go in there and get sick in there and die in there and you wouldn’t even know.”
After much back and forth with DIRCO and consulate higher-ups, Farzeen said she was eventually referred to an emergency switchboard number in South Africa.
“And I’m telling them the whole time that it’s a matter of urgency, it’s a matter of life and death and obviously they didn’t listen. They didn’t care. It just wasn’t an issue for them.”
Farzeen said it seems that the South African government thinks citizens want it to interfere in the laws and policies of China.
However, citizens want the opposite. They want consular support to ensure that the Chinese government workers and facilities adhere to said laws and policies.
“For example, the regulations state that mother and child will not be separated if either one tests positive. Yet, it seems to be at the discretion of the CDC worker that rocks up at your door to take you to a quarantine facility,” said the mother.
There are also concerns about access to emergency medical care. Farzeen made contact with a private hospital to ask what their procedure is when it comes to medical emergencies.
The South African has seen correspondence between the mother and hospital and the medical facility insists that patients must produce a negative COVID-19 test that was taken in the last 48 hours before they can receive treatment.
This effectively means that she will not receive help from the hospital that is closest to her home during an emergency.
Farzeen lives in a compound that has not had a positive COVID case since the onset of the current lockdown and testing for its residents have been downscaled as a result.
“That is going against government regulations because the regulation states that under no circumstances can hospitals refuse emergency medical care based on a lack of or a pending COVID-19 test and yet hospitals are still implementing their own policies,” said Farzeen.
“This is where we need to be able to phone the consulate to help us out in such situations. We are not asking them to interfere in the laws and policies. Not at all. We are asking them to help us out when the workers on the ground are not following those policies.”
*A pseudonym. Farzeen’s real name is withheld over safety concerns.