The family of freed hostage Debbie Calitz could not wait for her return to South Africa, so they travelled to Rome to be with her.
Calitz and her partner, Bruno Pelizzari, left Somalia soon after they were freed last Thursday and flew to Rome, Italy.
Pelizzari has been reunited with his elderly mother and his sister, Vera Hecht, who handled a lot of the negotiations for their release.
Speaking from Pretoria yesterday, Calitz’s younger brother, Dale van der Merwe, said his niece Kerri-Ann Cross and nephew Jason Cross could not wait to see their mom so they “flew to Rome at the weekend”.
Kerri-Ann and Jason last saw their mother about four years ago, when she left to join Pelizzari in Tanzania, where he had a job.
Van der Merwe said the couple had been unable to save enough money to visit home, so when they met Peter Eldridge, who was sailing to South Africa on a yacht, the couple offered to work for a trip back home.
The yacht was attacked by Somali pirates who abducted the three in October 2010. Eldridge refused to leave his yacht and was later rescued by the European Union’s anti-piracy force.
Yesterday Van der Merwe said Calitz had a family reunion in Rome on the same day that her son Jason turned 23.
“She (Calitz) has grandchildren she has never met.
“Debbie’s other daughter lives in the UK and took a train to Rome so that she could also be with her mother,” said Van der Merwe.
“They’ll be leaving Rome tonight and expect to arrive here early tomorrow morning,” said the elated Van der Merwe.
A hero’s welcome awaits the couple who were released after a 20-month ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates.
“This must be the worst thing she has ever experienced. I think it made her stronger. She has always had a strong spirit. She is obviously physically weak but I’m pleased to hear how strong she sounded,” said Van der Merwe.
He said he couldn’t wait to have his sister back home after all these years.
When the couple arrives they are expected to spend some time at the presidential guest house in Pretoria.
“She is everybody’s friend. She’s such an honest person.”
Van der Merwe said that they were planning “several get-togethers” to celebrate the couple’s safe return and to thank all those who have supported the two families.
Asked to comment about the money they raised for the ransom the pirates had demanded, Van der Merwe said: “In South Africa we managed to raise about R1m through various events. The local Somali community made a contribution that came close to the same amount.”
Indications are that no ransom was paid for the couple’s release.
“I’m hoping it wasn’t all used. They will need help getting started because they have nothing,” he said.
He said the response to their plight was overwhelming.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation was making all the travel arrangements.
Calitz and Pelizzari are expected to give evidence against Somali pirates in court in Italy today.