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Red Cross Reunites South African Family After 50-Year Separation

Red Cross reunion
Waiting at the airport was very emotional; it seemed like the clock stood still. - Henrietta Leflape, ICRC worker

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.

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. ''