South African Woman Reconnects with Family after 50 Years

Story by Bill Fortune, Pikes Peak Area Chapter, Colorado Springs CO, Public Affairs Volunteer

 Imagine being exiled from your country because of your political stance on apartheid. Imagine not being able to contact your family for more than 50 years.  Imagine the Red Cross International Tracing Service bringing your family together again.

Efodia looks out on Soweto

Efodia looks out on Soweto

That is exactly what happened to Efodia Mokane Ricks (formerly Masadubele).  The oldest of three sisters, Efodia lived in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle.  In 1962, the same year that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa, Efodia and her first husband were exiled. They spent time in several African countries, but when her husband was detained in Ghana, Efodia moved to Switzerland, where she continued to support the anti-apartheid struggle while in exile. Efodia immigrated to Germany and attended the University of Tubingen and then in 1994 moved to the United States.   Efodia remarried, became a U.S. citizen and had a son. By 2010, however, both her husband and son had died leaving her alone and homeless.

Fortunately, Efodia found the American Red Cross in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In March of 2012 James Griffith, a Red Cross caseworker for family reunification, drafted a tracing inquiry that was sent to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Pretoria Regional Delegation. Henrietta Leflape, an ICRC worker based in South Africa,began the extensive search to locate Efodia’s surviving relatives.

Efodia’s youngest sister, Bapsy, was contacted and immediately completed a Red Cross Message to tell her sister that she was alive and well and that she was prepared to welcome her home. The Red Cross network facilitated phone calls and letters between the sisters while funds were gathered to cover the airfare costs to bring Efodia home.

All their efforts came to fruition on April 17, 2013 when Efodia flew home to South Africa and to her family.

"Reuniting families is an emotional exercise", Letlape said.  "The families' expectations are high and we hope that nothing bad happens to any of the parties prior to the reunification. Waiting at the airport was very emotional; it seemed like the clock stood still.  I just thought, ‘if she has missed her flight, what explanation am I going to give to her family?’ Thus, when she came through the arrival area, I let go tears of joy that she made it.  Handing her over to her family and bringing them home to Soweto brought me great satisfaction. ''

The long process of coordinating a return home began in August of 2012. James with the help of Mr. John Schuler and then his replacement Mr. John Kottenstette at Denver’s Senior Support Services contacted the South African Embassy in Los Angeles, CA.

Finally, on April 17, 2013, Efonia boarded a plane to return to her home and family in South Africa.  On Thursday, April 18, Efonia arrived in Pretoria to the cheers and tears of her long lost family. On the day of the reunification, Bapsy stated: "I don't have words to describe what the Red Cross has done for us.  I never thought such a day would come.  We didn't sleep for the past 3 days, awaiting my sister's arrival.  I was 11 when she left South Africa.  If I were to die now, I could rest in peace because my sister has returned home.  After she has a good rest, we will have a celebration where she will be formally welcomed home and will meet the entire family.  We will also visit the graves of our parents.  Thank you, Red Cross.  We will never forget you."

"I am so relieved to be back home in South Africa after so many years.” Said Efodia, “ I never thought this day would come".

Efodia with her sisters, Bapsy and Khani

Efodia with her sisters, Bapsy and Khani

The reunification process was a community effort.  The Colorado Springs Police Department’s “Homeless Outreach Team” played an important role in obtaining the temporary housing for Efodia. The people at Denver Senior Support Services housing helped with housing and even drove Efodia to the Denver Red Cross office for the international phone calls.  The Pikes Peak Chapter allowed the use of vehicles to transport Efodia’s belongings to her new apartment in Denver.  The Consulate for South Africa kept the paperwork moving and the ICRC in South Africa did the tracing and made the reunification a reality.

Efodia reunites with family.jpg

 Photos copyright of ICRC. Photographer I. Edelstein