Efodia Mokane Ricks was exiled from her homeland of South Africa for her political stance on apartheid and was not able to contact her family for more than 50 years. With help from the Red Cross Restoring Family Links service, she ended that separation.
The oldest of three sisters, Efodia (formerly Masadubele) lived in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1962, the same year that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, she and her first husband were exiled. They spent time in several African countries, but when her husband was detained in Ghana, Ricks moved to Switzerland, where she continued to support the anti-apartheid struggle. She eventually moved on to Germany, where sheattended the University of Tubingen, and then in 1994 arrived in the United States. Ricks remarried, became a citizen and had a son. By 2010, both her husband and son had died, leaving her alone and homeless.
The former South African native found the American Red Cross in Colorado Springs, Colo., in March 2012, and shared her story with James Griffith, a Red Cross caseworker for international services. Griffith 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 Ricks’ surviving relatives.
Leflape located Ricks’ youngest sister, Bapsy, who immediately returned 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 Ricks and her family gathered funds to fly Ricks home.
All the efforts came to fruition last month when Ricks returned home to South Africa and her family. "Reuniting families is an emotional exercise,", Leflape 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?’ 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 Ricks’ return to her homeland was a true community effort that began in August 2012. Griffith worked with staff at Denver’s Senior Support Services to contact the South African Embassy in Los Angeles, Calif. The Colorado Springs Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team played an important role in obtaining temporary housing for Ricks. The staff at Denver Senior Support Services helped with housing and even drove Ricks to the Denver Red Cross office for the international phone calls. The Pikes Peak Red Cross Chapter used their vehicles to transport her belongings to her new apartment in Denver. The Consulate for South Africa kept the paperwork moving and the ICRC in South Africa completed the tracing to make reunion a reality.
Finally, on April 17, Ricks boarded a plane to return to her home and family in South Africa. She arrived in Pretoria the next day to the cheers and tears of her long lost family.
"I don't have words to describe what the Red Cross has done for us,” her sister Bapsy said. “I never thought such a day would come. We didn't sleep for the last three 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,” Ricks said “ I never thought this day would come".