SA family pleads for R400 000 in donations to bring back body of English teacher who died in China

When she was offered an extension of her contract by her employer, she turned it down. She had been in China for too long already and only seeing her loved ones through video calls became hard – she missed them and wanted to be home.

Lusanda Sixaxeni (27) who moved to China as an English teacher in 2019 after she graduated with political science and psychology qualification from Nelson Mandela University, suddenly fell ill the week she was supposed to go back home to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and was admitted in hospital in Beijing.

“We couldn’t get hold of her from the 30th of August,” shares her older brother Mandisi (32), who tells us he spoke to his  sister very often.

“I was the last person she spoke with on WhatsApp,” he says. Mandisi had a request of items he wanted his sister to bring back and when he texted, there were no responses.

“It was between the 3 and 4 September, I tried to get hold of her because I had things that I wanted from China when she comes back.”

For him it was unusual, something must’ve been wrong and that’s when he called his mom, Nomonde Sixaxeni to ask, “When last did you speak with my sister? And she said it was on the 30th as well, then I thought ‘no man there is something wrong because I cannot get hold of her’.”

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From then the worried Mandisi decided to call relatives as well as Lusanda’s friends to ask when they last spoke to her.

“Then on the 6th of September we called people she knew from China to go and check at her apartment, and they told us that it seemed like there was somebody in it but they could not break into her flat and had to call the police.”

“When the police arrived, she was found in her flat; she was still alive but in such a condition that she was not able to understand where she was, she seemed lost and did not know what was going on around her, and an ambulance was called.”

When Lusanda was admitted to hospital in Beijing, doctors told them that they’ve found a bacteria in her urine after medical examinations.

“There were no other sicknesses, and we did not know she was sick because of what besides the bacteria,” Mandisi tells Drum.

“My mom was constantly checking up on her via phone and video calls because she was admitted on the 6th of September, and from then on she was getting better. But then on the 11th it changed. Even the doctors confirmed that no man things are changing now, she is not getting better but worse, and we were not get any information on what was wrong with her.”

After her health deteriorated, Lusanda took her last breath on the early hours of 12 September while in hospital. “And she was supposed to come back home the following day.”

Lusanda Sixaxeni

Lusanda Sixaxeni

She just wanted to be home. “[She was coming back] for good, she went to China in 2019, so she missed home; she was offered a new contract but she declined it because she’s been in China for almost three years now.”

His family is now desperate to repatriate Lusanda’s body. They’ve knocked on so many doors from various departments seeking help.

“We went as far as reaching out to Dirco but they told us that they don’t have budget for it, and advised us to be ready because to move someone from China to South Africa will cost us R400 000 and that is why we were left with no choice but to seek help from the media and South Africans at large for donations.

“We also needed adviCe. There’s someone who also had a similar experience, he lost a sister in April this year so we had to find their number and seek for advice, he told us about the power of attorney and raising funds, so we are still trying.”

The authorities in China advised Lusanda’s family to consider cremation. “They said it is cheap and we said no because that is not according to our culture, in my family I’ve never heard of anyone who has been cremated before. We want to see and mourn her body, so that we can bury her in our culture,” Mandisi says.

She has left a void, but family say she will be remembered for her jovial character.

“She was a happy person, Lusanda loved people even in the family she made us happy, and she was the one who would send us money while she was in China.

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“She has left many good memories, we always made jokes about everything and she missed home so much the last few times we spoke.

“And the news that she was coming back home came straight from her, not through our mother or anyone else. She told me herself she was coming back.”

She planned for a family gathering before her passing. “My mom told that your sister says she is coming home and plans to do something on the 17th of September, she wanted a family get-together because I also don’t stay at home, I live in Port Elizabeth [Gqeberha] so I was told to prepare then come back home.

“This is a very difficult time more especially now that we have to run around, looking for lawyers to help us.

“And the other thing that is very frustrating is the paperwork, because in order for us to have someone to help us get her body from China we have to sign papers.”

He’s grateful for the emotional support the community has given his family. “They are calling and coming to offer prayers, even the donations, we are so grateful for their help to get us our Lusanda back home for burial.”

Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela confirmed to Drum that Dirco is aware of the family’s pleas but, unfortunately, couldn’t assist as they do not budget for such cases.

“We became aware of the case even before she passed on; when she was still in hospital, so every government including South Africa offers what we call consular services for its citizens abroad when they are in distress.

“And in this we cover any situations where nationals of our country need help from our embassy, let’s say if they get arrested, then we would request to go and check what they are charged with are they treated well etc.

“The important thing to note is that the consular services provided by the government through our embassies is non-financial and that is the policy of the South African government.

“In other words if you travel abroad and you lose money and can’t afford your accommodation, the embassy will not pay for accommodation for you .

“What we would do is to inform your family and liaise with them so that they can pay for you and if you passed on, we will inform the family but they will bear the responsibility of bringing your mortal remains back to South Africa,” he says.

“Of course there are options available, like cremation, which becomes a cheaper option. Then in that case, the ashes can simply be couriered, or whatever other cheaper mode of transport the family [chooses].

“But all of those decisions belong to the family because, as I said, the consular services from government are non-financial and this policy is not unique to South Africa. So there is no government that has a budget for such cases.”

He advices that “South African citizens who are travelling abroad – whether for studying purposes, for work, leisure etc as tourists – should always register with Dirco so that we know about where you are going”.

“And the second thing we advise people to do is to have travel insurance, which is offered by most banks as well as travel agencies.”