By Melodie Veldhuizen
On 27 April a group of 68 South Africans were repatriated from Mozambique and detained against their will in the Zithabiseni quarantine camp near Groblrsdal, where another group of 29 had already been in quarantine for 20 days. This camp did not comply with health and other standards. Melanie Nel and her husband, Dr Leon Nel, who was part of the second group with their two children, in collaboration with Afriforum, did everything in their power to have the group released. During a court case it was ordered that the group should be released and the camp closed. In the meantime it became known that there were many other substandard quarantine camps and this couple is still doing all they can to close similar camps in order to spare other people similar trauma.
We have seen and heard on many platforms of the dirty and dilapidated accommodation, the poor quality of the food, which is prepared in unhygienic conditions, the absence of medical care and, above all, the total disregard of human rights. Few people realise, however, what a psychological and emotional impact this experience had on the detainees.
Melanie Nel wrote a report in which she and her husband as well as a few of the other detainees tell of the Zithabiseni and Emperor’s Palace quarantine camps and how the experience affected them emotionally and psychologically. She writes “Having gone through the forced quarantine experience has most definitely left its mark on all of us. Herewith some of the direct statements from the detainees.”
The father of a female student (19) reorts as follows:
“Ons het die afgelope week agtergekom dat ons dogter nie ‘lekker’ is nie. Ons huisdokter het depressie en posttraumatiese stresversteuring by haar gediagnoseer. Sy sukkel om te slaap, voel pap en lusteloos. Sy voel ook nie meer lus om met haar duikopleiding voort te gaan nie. Op ʼn stadium het sy gevra: ‘As ons so behandel kan word deur die leiers in beheer, wat is die doel van my lewe?’” Die besorgde pa sê verder: “Die ondervinding in Zithabiseni het haar beslis ʼn knou gegee en haar selfstandigheid, selfbeeld en vertroue in die lewe benadeel. Sy is huiwerig om oor die gebeure te praat en ons probeer haar aanmoedig om ʼn psigiater te gaan spreek.”
A female detainee (54) tells:
“I thought I was fine until I hit the tar road to go home after leaving the quarantine facility. I felt emotional, got lost and ended up in Pretoria. I was driving around in Pretoria for around an hour before I could find my way out to go home. I still have sleepless nights and nightmares and have sought professional help to help me deal with that.”
A female detainee (35) experienced the situation as follows:
“Having suffered from depression before, I know when depression will set in again. I refuse to take medication though being captivated has definitely taken a toll on my mental state. The psychological impact of what I’ve been through will take some time to heal. Even though I think it was no big deal, my thoughts, dreams and behaviour now shows otherwise. I have become anxious in situations where I usually would have thrived. I am not my cheery self and I feel guilty for not being able to give my children 100% of mommy. Even though there was no violence, I cannot stand to watch an action movie or even a cartoon where a character dies. The negative and emotional impact it has on me now far surpasses the response I had in the past. This implies that I have suffered a trauma, and I now must deal with it to the best of my abilities. Mozambique has always held a special place in my heart and but after this I have become wary of thinking about my next holiday there.”
A male detainee (30) says:
“Since I have been in quarantine, I have been suffering from sleeplessness and as I’m writing this, there has been no improvement. I sleep at most three hours a day and this is having a negative effect on my studies.”
A female medical doctor (37) shares her experience:
“The experience of quarantine is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been there. Our experience at Emperors Palace was emotionally distressing. The room was small and we were not allowed to leave our room. Every day announcements were made on the hotel intercom system in an extremely condescending tone, constantly reminding us that we should be thankful to those serving us. All this leaves a person feeling that some sort of injustice is being done to them, that they are being held captive at the whim of their captors, and that their emotions are being played with … it leads to despair. I had dreams and nightmares about this experience. I would wake up crying, and even now I feel the emotion in my body welling up when I think of being back there.”
A female human resources manager (34) tells:
“I am a former ‘prisoner’ of the Emperors Palace quarantine facility. We were not allowed to leave our rooms or go outside for fresh air and sunshine, we are literally lying in our beds all day. After much fighting, they allowed us outside for 20 mins, 2 days out of 11 days, with police officers to escort us on the property. We were constantly being punished for something and there are continuous mind games. People were starting to break down, both emotionally and mentally. My fear was that someone was going to die in that facility, either from not receiving medical care or medication, or from taking their own life. I was released from the facility 5 days ago and have since had to seek therapy. I am currently seeing a psychologist. While in the facility I lost a friend to suicide, of which I received no support in the facility, thus I am trying to process grief and suffering with PTSD. I am going through periods of anxiety and struggling to sleep. When I do sleep, I am having these horrible nightmares of being stranded, locked up, punished, tortured, forgotten and chased. I am always trying to escape or run from someone trying to do me harm. This experience of being locked up and treated so badly, has definitely messed with me mentally, emotionally and financially.”
A female managing director (41) shares her experience:
“We were treated like criminals. Lockup up and exposed, threatened and bullied. Did it leave an impact? Unfortunately, yes. Two weeks later I still have nightmares of being chased, locked up, threatened, hunted down etc. I do not sleep well. I get emotional every time I relive what our children went through. The nasal and oral COVID-19 testing procedure was extremely emotional. Some of the children collapsed under the pressure and anxiety. My own 3-year-old daughter had to be held down by five people to get the nasal swab done; they also had to perform the procedure three times as she was kicking and screaming. By then I thought she was going to have a seizure. Before this incident, she had a fear of doctors. I can only imagine how this will impact her going forward. When we at a later stage walked past the place where the procedure was performed (outside the office building on the stoep), she started screaming hysterically. My generally happy-go-lucky kids are starting to settle down now. However, up until this point they were unnaturally aggressive, constantly crying and completely out of sorts. My 3-year-old suffers from separation anxiety all over again and reaches out to me constantly for comfort.”
A male medical doctor and company director (43) remembers:
“The anger whilst being held in custody, and treated like hostages with no rights, had a significant impact whilst being in the facility. Was it not for my family and my love for the Lord, I would have wanted to act completely irrational and out of control whilst being locked-up. Sleeping patterns were affected after the quarantine ordeal, including nightmares.”
This report shares the experiences of a small percentage of people who were exposed to negative quarantine situations. It can be accepted that this experience impacted most detainees over the short or long term. One can only hope that further action regarding similar substandard quarantine camps will be successful so that many other people will be spared similar trauma in future.
Nel, Melanie. Mei 2020. Psychologcal and emotional impact – non-compliant facilities