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‘They Treated Us Like Prisoners’ – Young SA Teacher Jailed in China Tells of Ordeal

A South African teenager who was detained in China says she’ll never leave the country to work overseas again after her month-long detention.

Tristan-Lee Niemand, 19, spoke about her ordeal shortly after landing at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday.

She opened up about how she found herself detained after working as a teacher in Nanjing, China, for three weeks.

Niemand and six other South Africans working as teachers in Nanjing were detained after it emerged that they didn’t have the proper work permits to teach in the country. They only had student visas and they were promised to be provided with work permits by the school that employed them.

On Tuesday, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation confirmed that Niemand and her group in Nanjing would be deported to South Africa on Friday. It also announced that eight South Africans being held in Zhejiang province would be sent home on Sunday.

Niemand vowed to never leave South Africa to work in another country.

“I arrived in China on October 10 and started my teaching job seven days later. Three weeks on the job in China, while we were in the house we were sharing, Chinese police [arrived] knocking on the door.

“They ordered us to hand over our passports and phones. We were then taken to a police station and questioned for five hours before we were released,” she said.

The following day, police arrived again and told them to go with them to file some papers.

On November 16, they were then taken to a hospital for check-ups and later taken to a detention house where they were detained.

“At that detention house, we were treated like prisoners. They didn’t care about us.”

She said there were five South African nationals, four Thailand citizens, three Russians and one person from an African country in that detention house, which Niemand could not remember.

“Things were different in China. However, I have learned a lot of things in that country although we were not allowed to speak to our parents. We were told to do things we didn’t understand,” she said.

The East London teenager, who was ecstatic about her return back to her native land, was emotional and could not explain her joy when her plane touched down at 07.30 at OR Tambo International Airport.

“The first thing that I am going to do when I arrive home is to have a braai. I missed South African meat and I am going to have lots and lots of it at home,” she said.

Emotional return

Her father Richard Bridger, who is a professional hunter, said his first-born daughter’s arrival back home left him with mixed emotions.

“I don’t know how to explain how I feel right now. It was very emotional when I first laid my eyes on my daughter at the airport. It felt like the first day when I saw her face.

“It has been emotional for me when I heard about her detention. I have been waiting for her since 06:00. We are now waiting for our next flight to East London where we are going to celebrate her arrival,” said Bridger.

“My daughter will never go and work in another country again,” he said.

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Written by Mathew

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