DURBAN – A KZN-born-and-bred Australian is at her wits end, having been trying since early August to get a visa to travel to Durban to see her elderly, dying mother.
“Time is of the essence,” Heather Stone said she had stressed in an email to the South African High Commission in Canberra from her home in Melbourne during the course of two months of correspondence with and calls to the diplomatic mission.
The former Beachwood Boys’ High School teacher said Australian Covid-19 restrictions also proved to be an obstacle. She is confined to within 5km of her home; if she were to go to Canberra, she would have to fly in and out on the same day, failing which she would need to quarantine.
Stone said she had submitted various documents, on one occasion only to be asked for different ones because the requirements had changed. On August 21 she included, at the request of the High Commission, a detailed explanation of why she should qualify to travel on compassionate grounds, she said.
“My mother was diagnosed in April with Stage Four lung cancer,” she submitted.
“On July 29 my mother had an MRI, which confirmed the cancer had metastasised in her brain. Since this diagnosis, my mother’s health has declined rapidly.
“She had developed paralysis down the right side of her body. I was hoping to be able to go over to South Africa to care for mom and take her to the radiation treatment which started on Monday 17 August. Mum’s condition is terminal. She has a few months, at best, left to live.”
Nearly two months down the line, the “few months” has reduced to a matter of weeks, according to Stone’s brother, Durban North art dealer Alan Gordon, who has been at his mother’s side.
Another brother, Peter, who also lives in Australia, is also applying for a visa.
Directorate of International Relations spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said he could not say what the delay was about but that the matter had been referred to Canberra for comment, which was not forthcoming at the time of publication.
However, Stone said the High Commission had once again asked for her documents, adding that staff there had been “very co-operative”, understanding the obstacles posed by Australian lockdown laws.
Her mother, Gill Gordon, 85, who was a radiographer at Ngwelezana Hospital, outside Empangeni, has moved from her Durban retirement home to a frail care facility, having suffered a fall.
Alan Gordon said: “I feel privileged to be here able to support my mother through this terrible time with this terrible disease. Heather and Peter just want to do the same.”
A fourth sibling, Brian, visits when he is able to travel from Mpumalanga.
What puzzles the Gordon family is that a friend of Stone’s back in Australia, in her exact same situation, received her travel exemption three weeks ago having applied 10 days after Stone.
“She’s booked on a flight this weekend,” Stone said
Alan, meanwhile, added his mother’s condition was so serious he expected it would be a matter of weeks before she slipped away.
“It will haunt Heather for the rest of her life if she is not able to be with mom. She has always assured her she is only a flight away and visited Durban frequently.
“Nobody could ever have envisaged a situation like we have now.”
Independent On Saturday